Disclaimer: Yeah, I don't own this, either. Not the characters, the world, and I even stole snippets of plot ideas from other fans. See the note after the story for a list that's probably a bit incomplete.
Note: Rated K+ for casual drinking? That's pretty much it.
"What would you say to a picnic?"
Crowley peered out at Aziraphale from where he lay sprawled out on the angel's couch, his sunglasses slipping a little farther down his nose. He didn't bother adjusting them. The lighting in the bookshop was pleasantly dim – a soft warm glow that, combined with just the right amount of alcohol in his system, was beginning to make him a bit drowsy. Well, maybe more than a bit. In any case, his first thought was that he must have misheard the angel. He couldn't possibly be suggesting—
"Angel, it's the middle of the night," Crowley reminded him, in case he'd forgotten. It was an easy thing to forget; there were no windows in the back room of the bookshop. Or perhaps when one didn't sleep, the middle of the night seemed as good a time for a picnic as any. Crowley didn't need to sleep either, of course, but it was something he indulged in far more than Aziraphale did.
Aziraphale shifted a little in his chair. "Oh, I didn't mean … Well, not right this moment. Perhaps tomorrow? Or would it be later today, by now?"
Crowley hesitated. Perhaps Aziraphale was too tipsy to understand the significance of what he was suggesting. Or perhaps he did understand, and that was why his voice was so shaky, so unsure – though that might have been the wine. On the surface, there was nothing unusual about the suggestion. How many times had they had lunch together? Sometimes it was Aziraphale's idea; sometimes it was his.
But the difference was, none of those outings had been planned – not more than a few minutes in advance. They'd never bothered with making reservations. They'd never sat down and figured out exactly when they were going to meet up again; it just sort of happened. It was spontaneous. It was fun.
And just as importantly, it had kept them safe. If they'd started meeting up regularly, on any sort of schedule, rather than flying by the seat of their pants, it would have been easier for their respective sides to figure out something was going on. And that would have been the end of both of them.
Things were different now. They'd faced down fire and water in each other's places, and emerged without a scratch. That would buy them a little breathing room, and what they did with it … well, that was up to them now. Their secret was out; there was no more reason to hide.
Certainly there was no reason not to go on a picnic, something Aziraphale had first brought up more than fifty years ago. Maybe one day we could … Oh, I don't know. Go for a picnic. Dine at the Ritz. In the very next breath, however, he had said, You go too fast for me, Crowley.
So Crowley had been patient. He had waited for Aziraphale to broach the subject again, and, sure enough, the angel had been the one to invite him to the Ritz – the first time, at least. But a picnic was a topic that hadn't come up since. Not until now.
"Crowley?" Barely a second had passed, but Aziraphale was clearly already worried that he might have said something wrong, that maybe he was going too fast.
Now that was a funny thought.
Crowley stretched, sprawling out a little farther on the couch. "It's a date, Angel."
Even in the dim light of the bookshelf, even with his sunglasses half-on, Crowley could tell that Aziraphale was blushing. But he didn't protest. And just before Crowley closed his eyes, he could see a smile spread across his angel's face.
It was worth every second of waiting.
It was almost noon by the time he woke Crowley.
Aziraphale waited until the last possible moment, after he'd already packed everything they would need snugly into a picnic basket. He'd bought it years ago, not long after suggesting they might go on a picnic someday. He'd been waiting for just the right occasion to propose using it, and if playing a role in stopping Armageddon and surviving Heaven and Hell's attempts to execute them didn't count as a special occasion, he wasn't sure anything did.
Crowley was still asleep on the couch, arms and legs stretched out in a position that didn't look like it should be comfortable. Aziraphale had meant to suggest, at several points during the night, that perhaps he should head back to his own flat if he wanted a good night's rest, but he'd never quite gotten the words out. And once he'd fallen asleep, Aziraphale hadn't wanted to disturb him, so he'd spent the night tinkering around in the kitchenette, making sure everything was just so.
Finally, Aziraphale bent down beside the couch and whispered, "Crowley." When the demon didn't stir, he tried again, a little louder. Then a little louder. The third time, Crowley let out a soft hiss as his eyes slowly blinked open. "Good morning," Aziraphale beamed, and it was technically still true. There were a few minutes of morning left.
He'd never really understood the demon's fondness for sleep. He'd tried it once himself, and once was more than enough. But Crowley enjoyed it. He'd told Aziraphale once that he'd slept right through most of the 19th century, but the angel wasn't entirely sure he believed that. Sure, he couldn't recall seeing Crowley much during that particular century, but that hadn't been all that unusual back in those days. There had been times when they'd gone decades or even centuries without bumping into each other.
But things were different now. Now it was hard to imagine going that long without seeing his demon. Without feeding the ducks, or having lunch, or a terrifying ride in the Bentley. Now that they'd abandoned their respective sides, Crowley was one of the few constants in his life, one of the few things he could be certain of.
And that was enough.
Crowley stretched, then slid on a pair of sunglasses and followed Aziraphale outside. "So where are we picnicking?" he asked as Aziraphale tucked the picnic basket into the back seat of the Bentley. "I assume you have somewhere in mind."
Aziraphale nodded, climbing into the passenger seat. Of course Crowley would have figured out that he'd already picked out the perfect spot. He pulled out a map he'd just happened to have in his pocket. "I was thinking the beach. There's a lovely spot right near here." He pointed on the map. "It's a bit of a drive, but…"
He didn't finish the sentence. He didn't have to. A 'bit of a drive' in anyone else's car would be a significantly shorter trip in this particular Bentley, with this particular demon at the wheel. Crowley slid into the driver's seat and studied the map for about two seconds before throwing the car into gear and taking off down the road.
For a moment, there was silence. But it was only a moment before Crowley reached into the glove compartment, fiddled around with the tapes, and absently shoved one into the slot. To Aziraphale's surprise, classical music blasted from the car's speakers.
Crowley looked just as astonished as Aziraphale, but then realization dawned on his face. "The tapes!" he concluded, thumping the steering wheel. "Same old Bentley, new tapes. Just like your bookshop. Same old shop, new books."
Aziraphale perked up. "You noticed?"
"Of course I noticed. Adam's little idea of a joke, I suppose. Don't worry; give it a fortnight, and the tapes'll be back to normal, too." He shrugged.
"Until then, I guess we're stuck with Mozart."
It wasn't a long drive at all.
Crowley slowed down to only about 20 mph over the speed limit as they neared their destination. Aziraphale still fussed a bit whenever he went over a hundred, but he was clearly less nervous about pushing the limits of the Bentley's speedometer on open roads in broad daylight. And of course, when the imminent threat of the end of the world wasn't looming over their heads.
"So you really asked for a rubber duck?" Crowley asked as Aziraphale neared the end of his story – a story that had only occasionally been punctuated by a plea to Watch the road! or Don't hit that bird! Why did birds fly so low if they didn't want to be hit, anyway?
Aziraphale beamed. "It seemed like the sort of thing you would do."
Crowley smirked. "What, play with rubber ducks?" he teased, even though he knew full well that wasn't what the angel had meant. Aziraphale didn't bother answering, so Crowley continued. "It almost sounds like you had fun."
Aziraphale considered that for a moment. "I think I did." The Bentley skidded to a stop just shy of the beach. "Is that … is it all right? That I had fun pretending to be you?"
Crowley couldn't help a laugh. "Of course it's all right. It's just…" The words died on his lips as soon as he saw Aziraphale's expression. He knew what was coming. He was clever enough to figure out that Crowley had kept the conversation focused on Aziraphale, and had avoided talking about his own experience in Heaven.
"Crowley?" Aziraphale asked tentatively as they got out of the Bentley and headed for the shore. "What is it?"
"Nothing, Angel," Crowley insisted, but his tone was unconvincing, and he knew it.
Aziraphale picked out a spot and spread the picnic blanket – tartan, of course. He sat down, his gaze still fixed on Crowley. Crowley slumped down on the blanket beside him, doing his best to avoid those eyes. "Crowley." The angel's voice was soft and gentle, but at the same time unrelenting. He wasn't getting out of this one. "Crowley, what happened? You can tell me."
"I don't want to."
"Crowley, I can take it."
And there it was. It was bad enough that the other angels had treated Aziraphale so cruelly, but Aziraphale expected them to. He probably had a decent idea already of how things had played out. Why did he want all the details? "You shouldn't have to," Crowley said at last, taking off his sunglasses to meet Aziraphale's gaze.
It was all he needed to say. All he ever needed to say. Crowley opened his mouth, and the whole story came pouring out. How Gabriel had simply condemned him without so much as a pretense of a trial. How Uriel had untied him and said Up! in that condescending voice, as if he was a dog performing a trick – the trick, of course, being walking into hellfire of his own volition. The smug look on Gabriel's face, as if Aziraphale was a nuisance he was happy to be rid of. Shut your stupid mouth and die already.
The words burned as he repeated them. "I wanted to kill him then and there, Angel. I wanted to take that hellfire and use it to wipe that look off his face. Or just punch him, or at least say something. But I couldn't, because—"
"—because I wouldn't have," Aziraphale finished.
Crowley said nothing. It was true. And it hurt to know that it was true, to know that his angel wouldn't have fought back. Not that either of them would have stood a chance against an archangel, let alone three, but that wasn't the point. If he was going to die anyway—
But he hadn't died. Neither of them had. Crowley drew a deep breath, even though he didn't technically need to. "It doesn't matter anymore," he said in a low voice. "None of it does. They don't matter. And they don't deserve any more of our attention."
He opened the picnic basket, and Aziraphale's face immediately brightened at the smell. The angel nodded. "You're right. It's over. I'm glad you told me, but … but it's done now." He smiled as he began to unpack the basket.
"They don't get to spoil this."
The meal was delicious.
Aziraphale took another bite of the strawberry at the end of a fruit kabob. He'd arranged the fruit just right to make a rainbow – a strawberry, a tangerine slice, a pineapple slice, a piece of kiwi, two blueberries (because they were smaller), and a purple grape. He was currently savoring his third one. Crowley, meanwhile, had scarfed down four in about half a second and was in the process of devouring a piece of chicken.
The first time he'd done that, Aziraphale had been quite alarmed. After a little coaxing, Crowley had agreed to join him for oysters at Petronius' restaurant. When Crowley had finished his whole meal in what had seemed like only a few seconds, he'd been worried that he might have done something wrong – that perhaps the demon was in a hurry to get somewhere, or that he hadn't enjoyed the meal, or something.
After a few more outings, however, he'd begun to realize that was simply how Crowley ate. And he never seemed in a particular hurry to leave after he'd finished his meal; he would stay, have another drink or two, and watch while Aziraphale ate. Which was exactly what he was doing now. By the time Aziraphale popped the last grape into his mouth, Crowley had finished two slices of angel food cake and lay stretched out on the blanket, resting on one elbow, basking in the sun as he occasionally sipped some of the wine the angel had brought.
So Aziraphale ate, and they talked. They laughed about the fact that Sergeant Shadwell had apparently been working for them both for years without either of them realizing it. They watched the fish splashing, and Crowley remarked that they wouldn't be turned into bouillabaisse after all. Apparently, the word was much easier to pronounce when mostly sober. They discussed Aziraphale's plan to arrange for Adam and Warlock to be pen pals. Even with modern technology, Aziraphale reasoned, there was still something nice about a good, old-fashioned letter.
And they reminisced. Crowley fondly recalled the day he'd sent a casual email suggesting that what YouTube really needed was a comment section, without fully realizing the hours of entertainment that would come of it. Aziraphale revealed that he'd actually managed to find the Holy Grail and proudly presented it to King Arthur, who had insisted that it couldn't possibly be the real deal because it was, in his words, 'just a dusty old cup.' They laughed about their favorite Shakespearean plays; Crowley had greatly enjoyed Twelfth Night, while Aziraphale had a fondness for Richard III.
"Still prefer the funny ones," Crowley concluded, taking a drink as Aziraphale helped himself to another slice of cake. "At least they don't feel like he's trying to teach you a lesson. Don't kill the king, or you'll die horribly. Don't avenge your father, or you'll die horribly. Don't go falling in love with the enemy, or you'll die horribly."
Aziraphale couldn't help a chuckle. "There does seem to be a bit of a theme, doesn't there." He shook his head. "I never quite liked the ending of Romeo and Juliet, myself. At least the others feel like … well, justice, in a way. Certainly no one can say Richard didn't deserve it. But those two were punished for what? Love?" His voice grew quiet. "People shouldn't be punished for love."
"No," Crowley agreed immediately – and a little more forcefully than Aziraphale had expected. "No, they shouldn't." As Aziraphale reached for the wine bottle, Crowley did the same, and for a moment, their fingers brushed. Aziraphale could almost hear the words his demon hadn't said.
No, we shouldn't.
They stayed long after their meal was finished.
Crowley stretched, enjoying the warmth of the sun. He'd squirmed off the blanket and onto the sand a while ago; they'd found just enough shade for the sand to be pleasantly warm instead of burning hot. Aziraphale, for his part, was still seated on the blanket, sitting up perfectly straight and staring out at the ocean. "I've always wondered…" he started, but then seemed to realize he'd said it out loud and cut himself off immediately.
Crowley sat up a little, curious. "What?"
"Oh, nothing. It's silly."
You're sitting on a beach with a demon eating fruit kabobs and chicken and talking about Romeo and Juliet, was what Crowley didn't say. The world was just saved because the antichrist told Satan that he wasn't his real dad, after four kids defeated the Horsemen of the Apocalypse with the flaming sword you gave away, a witchfinder broke a computer, and you rode all the way to Tadfield on a flying scooter. They'd passed 'silly' a long time ago and were waving to it from somewhere comfortably on the other side of 'absurd.'
What he said instead was, "I like silly."
Aziraphale blushed. "Oh, all right. I was wondering what it would feel like to be buried in the sand."
Crowley blinked slowly. He wasn't sure exactly what he'd been expecting the angel to say, but it certainly hadn't been that. "Buried," he repeated. "In the sand."
Aziraphale fiddled with his bow tie. "Oh, I said it was silly. It's just … it's something that children do, apparently. They lie down and bury each other in the sand, and it always just sounded so … fun. All warm and snug. And I've always wanted to give it a try, but…"
Crowley cocked his head, unsure how being buried in anything could be considered 'fun.' But it wasn't as if Aziraphale was asking to bury him in the sand. Crowley waved his hand indulgently, and a small red pail appeared beside him. "You'll probably want to take off that coat, Angel."
Aziraphale took the suggestion with a grin, folding the coat neatly and laying it inside the picnic basket in case any sand happened to splash in that direction. He removed his shoes, as well, and then his socks, and lay down in the sand. Meanwhile, Crowley filled the small bucket with sand, then turned back to Aziraphale, who was watching him expectantly. "You're sure?" Crowley asked.
Aziraphale nodded, and Crowley poured a thin layer of sand over the angel. When he received only a contented smile in return, Crowley continued, a little more confidently this time. Soon, there was a sizable pile of sand on top of the angel, and Aziraphale looked quite cozy. "It's almost what I've imagined a hug would feel like."
"What, all tight and squeeze-y? I always imagined it would be more like flopping down on a nice, soft bed and just sinking deeper into the fluffy — wait." Crowley's train of thought skidded to a halt as his mind finally caught up with his mouth. "You've imagined? No one's ever hugged you?"
Crowley opened his mouth. Then he closed it again. Hearing those two words in his angel's gentle voice was almost unbearable. He'd said it so easily, so matter-of-factly, as if he couldn't imagine anyone wanting to. Crowley'd had the same thought himself, of course, but he was a demon. Other demons weren't exactly lining up to snuggle each other. But angels—
Shut your stupid mouth and die already. The words washed back as he knelt down beside Aziraphale, still buried comfortably in the sand. No, Gabriel and his lot certainly weren't huggers. Crowley laid a hand on the sand that still covered Aziraphale. "I would." Then, as an afterthought, "I mean, if you'd want to."
For a moment, Crowley was afraid he'd overstepped. That he was going too fast. It certainly wouldn't be the first time. But then Aziraphale was smiling, and wriggling a little, trying to free himself. But wriggling wasn't really his strong suit. After struggling unsuccessfully for a little longer than was necessary, he looked up at Crowley.
"Of course. Of course I would. But I think you'll have to get me out first."
It didn't take long for Crowley to free him.
Aziraphale shook the sand from his clothes and straightened his bow tie. Either of them could have simply miracled the sand pile away, but there was something satisfying about the weight lifting little by little as Crowley pushed the sand off, and then finally shaking himself free. Crowley stood there, watching, amusement shining in his golden eyes.
He was waiting. Waiting for … what? To give Aziraphale a moment to dust himself off? No. No, that wasn't quite it. Maybe he still wasn't sure – not really sure – that Aziraphale had meant what he'd said. Or maybe…
You go too fast for me, Crowley. Crowley had usually been the one to make the first move, to initiate a conversation, to get things rolling. He had been the one to approach Aziraphale all those years ago in the garden, striking up a conversation with someone who was supposed to be his enemy. When the rain had come, he'd taken a step towards Aziraphale even before the angel had raised a wing to shelter him, instinctively knowing that he would. Time and time again, Crowley had taken a step closer. Maybe that was what he was waiting for.
Maybe he was waiting for Aziraphale to catch up.
Aziraphale took a breath, calming his nerves, and took a step closer, edging his way towards Crowley the same way his demon had in the garden. Instead of a wing, Crowley raised an arm, laying a hand on his shoulder, drawing him in close. Aziraphale wrapped his arms around Crowley, leaning in closer. Crowley's arms snaked around him, pressing the angel tightly to his chest.
He had been wrong. It wasn't at all like being buried in sand. It was tighter, and snugger, and better. Aziraphale tried to squeeze Crowley tighter, wanting to return the feeling, but try as he might, he knew he couldn't hold on as tightly as Crowley. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Crowley pulled back a little – just far enough that they could see each other's faces. Genuine puzzlement danced over the demon's face. "Whatever for?"
"I'm afraid I'm not much good at this."
Crowley shook his head, staring in amazement, and then drew Aziraphale close again, burying his face in the angel's shoulder. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he insisted, his voice a bit muffled by Aziraphale's shirt. "This is better than a feather pillow."
Aziraphale leaned in again, smiling contentedly, only half-aware of the gesture as his wings appeared, folding around Crowley, wrapping him in a soft, feathery blanket. Crowley's arms coiled around Aziraphale, drawing him closer. Closer. "Hmm," was all Aziraphale could manage to say. Then, very quietly, "We should have done this a long time ago."
Crowley chuckled. "Doesn't matter now, Angel. We have all the time in the world."
Yes. Yes, perhaps they did. And it was a good thing, too.
Because he wouldn't want to let go for a long, long while.
A warm thank you to...
- Tumblr user lillian-sunshine for the "Crowley does eat - just very quickly" headcanon: tinyurl dot com /y4g265qu
- Twitter user WindMogica for this cozy image (the last one), which inspired several trains of thought: tinyurl dot com /y5mujva4
- Tumblr user PeggyDoodles for the "Aziraphale's never been hugged" thing, which finally gave me the kick in the butt I needed to write this thing: tinyurl dot com /yxs3p2vx
Replace the "dot" with a dot and get rid of the spaces to follow the links. This site hates links.