Paved with Good Pretentions

Paved with Good Pretentions

It could have been difficult to know where Aziraphale had hunkered down in this strange new city. It could have been a pain in the pinfeathers to track him down, especially when he wasn't ansa'ing his phone. 

It could have been difficult.

It could have been. But it wasn't.  Because it would only take a cursory glance down the streets lined with the better eateries in the city to find the big red eyesore that was the facade of a bookstore that should have still been back in England. But AZ Fell and Co, comingled with the other buildings as if it had always been there. The patina of dust and dirt on the windows and all. As well as the proprietor's incredibly complicated sign dictating his business hours. It could be argued that the man was intentionally trying to keep people out of his shop. But that would just be ridiculous wouldn't it?

As ridiculous as picking up a literal building to follow your friend halfway around the world without so much as a 'mind if I join'? 

Despite all this, the demon would find the bookshop. The door locked with the little 'closed' sign prominently on display in those windows and the light sound of classical music coming from inside.

    • AJ Crowley
      AJ Crowley

      It might have been an obvious as.. a very obvious thing, but it still took the demon Crowley a while to pick up on it.

      Partially because these were unfamiliar streets, with unfamiliar people, and unlike some beings he hadn't teleported his entire collection of worldly goods across the ocean.

      Also, he had been somewhat tied up with other matters.

      When he did spot it, unexpectedly between stomping around trying to determine where in the entire United States you would find a decent blancmange, it took at least a double take. 

      "Oh he has got to be joking."

      Closed signs and locks were no problem for a demon, particularly an irate one who simply waved the doors open and slammed them shut behind him.

      "Aziraphale!"

      No use hiding behind stacks of Gatsbys and Gwenhwyfars, he could sense the other like a batch of readily made coco.

      "Aziraphale!"

      As if he wasn't already tetchy enough before, this was really enough to get a wing out of joint.

      "I can't believe yo-"

      And that's presumably as far as he got, because who would leave a demon loose in a bookstore anyways.

      • Aziraphale
        Aziraphale

        "Oh, Crowley-

        Those italics could mean anything. Withering dismay, unbridled rage, the precursor to a face full of holy water-but it was said so cheerfully it was worse than any of the other options by far. 

        "-how nice to see you. Scone?" 

        The italics were one thing but the smile, the bright and altogether joyful beam that was sent the demon's way was quite another hazard entirely. 

        Aziraphale had not gotten up when the door was nearly rattled off the hinges. Nor when his name was taken in vain twice, he had merely shifted in his chair at his desk to witness the foul temper of his fallen fri-casual-stone in his shoe. He was even wearing the completely useless reading glasses he wore because he thought they made him look 'nifty'. 

        Oh yes, and there were scones. A plate of them. Looking not so much nefarious as a smiling angel in small glasses. Some had cranberries in them.

        "Alone? Are we?" He lifted his eyebrows pointedly before turning back to his ledger. "How very shocking. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

        • AJ Crowley
          AJ Crowley

          Whatever Crowley had been about to rail died in his throat as a wave of - was that guilt? - washed right into him.

          Wobbling slightly, he eyed the angel, and those nefarious cranberries, before swallowing.

          "Look, about the other day at the bar..."

          Again, that was about as far as he got, because suddenly all his well prepared lines and explanations had withered up on the spot. Inconvenient, to say the least.

          • Aziraphale
            Aziraphale

            Aziraphale stopped writing for just a fraction of a second before he powered ahead.

            "It was presumptuous of me to barge in like that. It must have been very inconvenient for you to explain it away. Ah-" He turned and pointed to a bottle, recorked, familiar as the spirits that were confiscated from 'the other day at the bar', sitting on a nearby shelf. "-that's yours. Leftovers to tide you over until you find a fine winery in this very eclectic city. Not that this presents a real problem for you, you've always had an extra sense for liquor locating." 

            The angel looked at him for a moment, as he indicated to the wine, and his free hand drummed its fingers on the ledger like a battle march, the smile becoming more obviously forced. He rallied by clearing his throat and dusting off his glasses distractedly. 

            "I'm glad you've found someone you can be yourself with." he lifted his glasses to his eyes as if to mimic the demon's own dark shades. "Scales and all. I wasn't-" The fingers drummed again, an eyebrow twitching as he tried to find the right words. He'd practiced them. Very hard. But they had all flown out of his head at the moment. Traitorous words. "-I wasn't spying on you if that's what you thinking. I happened to see you in passing in the company of another demon and... well after everything. I suppose I forgot that I am not your guardian angel and thank Heaven as that would be a discouraging endeavor. So, was there something else you wanted to scowl at me for? Or would you like to remind me of any more hurtful things I may have said to you? By all means. Get it out of your system keeping it in will wreak havoc on your stomach."  That was good. Leave it there. Don't-

            The smile twisted only slightly at the edges as he concluded.

            "Rather like kale."

            • AJ Crowley
              AJ Crowley

              There it was. Like a celestial scab that had been picked right off, the words flowed a lot easier with anger. He could work with anger.

              He knew Aziraphale would completely misread the situation. He knew it. But hearing it confirmed nearly dropped him to his knees with an overly dramatic groan turned roar.

              "It's not like that!" He had so been trying to avoid the cliches but sometimes they were a necessary evil. "I was only with her because she's-"

              The prompt for a certain field trip. A certain doomed field trip. 

              Sullenly, he muttered, "Well it doesn't matter now anyway."

              Then the angel, who clearly couldn't help himself, waved The Kale Incident at him like a green flag and all bets, hellish or otherwise, were off.

              "You want me to bring that up? Bring it all up, like a oozing kale-filled spew - thanks so much for that, by the way." Did he even know how hard kale smoothie was to get out of shoes? "Well I'm not going to, because you're not the boss of me or whatever toxic thing I chose to cling onto for the rest of eternity!"

              Which might not be that long, if recent trends were anything to go by.

              • Aziraphale
                Aziraphale

                "Well, I should say I am not indeed." He replied shortly. "'Boss of you' for Heaven's sake." Scoffing now, and feeling scorned all over again.

                "Whoever could claim to control the unpredictable Crowley? All the forces of Hell couldn't manage it what hope would I have?" He clicked his tongue irritably, shifting in his seat as if it had suddenly become covered in pins. "Boss of you." he snorted again. "Preposterous."

                But the indignation seemed to lessen a bit.

                "I don't want to boss you around Crowley." Aziraphale sighed and pinched the bridge of his bill tiredly. "And I apologize for the kale thing, that was cruel of me.  I was worried for you and, you know how to cut me. RIght down to the quick." 

                He stood up and folded the glasses neatly, placing them safely on the desk before taking the wine off the shelf and frowning at it bitterly.

                "Whatever the, and I use the term lightly in the case of demons, lady might be to you. Whatever your intention was I truly don't know. I don't know if I want to know quite honestly. As it seems your loyalties blow hither and thither on a whim these days. I was never trying to be your boss Crowley. But you-" The anger bubbled up again, and there was the sound of ruffling wings but no sign of them. Aziraphale took a steadying breath and held the wine out to the demon as if that was what he'd come for and the sooner he'd had it the sooner he'd leave. 

                • AJ Crowley
                  AJ Crowley

                  The demon stood, frozen for a moment, as if he had been slapped with a tap-dancing mackerel.

                  Then all hell broke loose. Or at least, the part he could unleash with his tongue.

                  "'Blow hither and thither'?!" Normally Crowley delighted in mocking his companion's mannerisms whenever possible, but there was too much fury in it to work. Next time. "Blow you, Aziraphale! Like after six thousand years, after all that's happened, some vainglorious tart with a huge personality comes along and it changes anything?"

                  The wine duly snatched as he leaned in to add a side note, "You realise her type are a dime a dozen where I'm from, yeah?" One of his coworkers had even assessed her as a 'seven at best' long ago. "What, are you worried I'll be roped into doing their bidding by dangling that in front of me like a seven day old piece of katsuo? Or even that I want to be around 'my own kind'?"

                  The bottle was flung off to the side. Nowhere that would damage anything serious, just to make a point.

                  "Angel, if I enjoyed hanging around other demons so much, why would I spend any blasted time with you?!"

                  Hypothetically, that was. Anything else would be preposterous.

                  • Aziraphale
                    Aziraphale

                    He had expected the hellish rebuke, had doggedly tried to steel himself for it.

                    He flinched anyway.

                    It took a moment of reprimands to prompt him to open his eyes, truthfully he had hoped he might have kept them closed. When the bottle was thrown Aziraphale quickly flicked out his hand in mild panic and a pillow appeared below it cushioning it’s potentially messy landing. With great effort not to flinch again he took in the rest of the heated argument with a tight jaw.

                    The final point sharpened and impacted upon him Aziraphale drew a breath to counter with any of the conversational javelins he’d started gathering as the demon spat at him. Instead of this, the instant his jaw had loosened enough to speak, the words he’d bitten back spilled out of him.

                    “-you said we were a team.” It took the righteous wind out of his sails, metaphorical projectiles slipping out of his hands to land smarting on his toes, but there was no stoppering it now. “Our own side, you’d said, and I believed you. And then you left. You left me Crowley. Alone with no telling if any retribution would come knocking as you indulged your ‘mid-existence crisis’ or whatever this is. For me, or for you.”

                    He held up a hand as if to ward off any interruption. Awkwardly, with very jerky movements that raised hand patted the demon’s arm in a strange mixture of “I would rather smack you” and “buck up old chum”.

                    “Picking up to this frankly bizarre place and expecting me to sit pretty not knowing if you were safe or if you were going anywhere you might have allies to watch out for you should they... well if it all goes plum shaped.” Close enough.

                    And because it needed saying...

                    “Besides the appraised price of the young lady really has nothing to do with it. I half expected to find you being dragged back to Hell and when I did find you in the presence of another demon I...” he frowned irritably. “i panicked.  It didn’t occur to me not to. In the heat of the moment I had... well truthfully I had thought of all the times you’d derailed any number of discorporations I’d walked right into and-“ He trailed off with a sigh.

                    “Heroism never quite suited me has it? I’m afraid I don’t have the knack for it.”

                    “You’re my best friend Crowley.” He concluded softly. “And you went away leaving me behind like a moth eaten stack of last century’s hymnals.”

                    • AJ Crowley
                      AJ Crowley

                      "... you didn't have to bring the whole flaming bookstore."

                      Ridiculous. Crowley had a whole other rant prepared, potentially using a bubble chart, to tell the Aziraphale exactly how ridiculous it, and by extension, he was.

                      Except now it only seemed amusing, in a sad sort of way.

                      All that righteous anger and as it was plainly obvious even to him, the angel had done The Right Thing and he had done The Wrong Thing. Typical. A miracle either of them were surprised at all.

                      It felt like the time for an apology, but Crowley wasn't well practiced. Instead he offered, not an accusation, but an explanation. His friend deserved that much at least.

                      "I would've told you but you were so busy with, I don't know, new first editions and-" Gesturing vaguely around to Book Shop Business. "I thought you'd be happy not to have me underfoot for a while."

                      There might have been some shooing. Gentle shooing, it was Aziraphale after all, but hand it to the inventor of attention economics to get all put out.

                      Clearing his throat, uncomfortable with too much of the truth in one helping, he pressed on with what had been his original plan. There seemed very little point now, as he didn't expect to be forgiven, but he couldn't keep the darn thing.

                      "Anyway, the whole reason I came over here was to return, uh," Where had he magicked that blasted bunny to? Oh there it was, hiding behind his back. "This."

                      Not that he would stop Aziraphale taking Francis out of his clutches, but for the moment the rabbit seemed quite happy there.

                      "You know this is the first time something this small hasn't keeled over at the sight of me?" Except for the ducks perhaps, but ducks didn't count. Besides it was one thing to throw feed, it was quite another to have it snuggle into the warmth of your neck adorably. "For the life of me I can't work out why..."

                      Perhaps his blending in was getting better? After another couple of centuries perhaps he could get a pony. Call it Bloodrider. Feed it popcorn.

                      • Aziraphale
                        Aziraphale

                        Aziraphale cringed, and patted the closest support beam of his shop as if to comfort it.

                        “Perhaps that was not the most neutral turn of phrase? But of course you’re right. It was a bit much but... leave it behind? For prowlers to pry into? Or worse. Corrupt the cataloguing system.  I couldn’t bring myself to leave it.” Had he been so engaged in his reading and research that he’d inadvertently banished the bane of his concentration? It sounded plausible. “I did not mean to discourage you.”

                        He smiled slowly, shaking his head as he did so.

                        “We’re carrying on like a fine pair of foolzers aren’t we-“

                        Whatever other foolzes were to be aired could not quite find the angel’s attention once the demon made a rabbit appear with such ease regular magicians would punch holes in their top hats and take up accounting.  Aziraphale stared. Then his eyes started to shine as he placed his steepled fingers in front of the sunburst of a smile that had overtaken the lower half of his face.

                        “Francis.” He gasped before the sunny look was set on Crowley and a hand migrated  from his mouth to his chest to rest over his heart. “Crowley,” he crooned in open gratitude eyes twinkling. “You burgled for me?” He put a hand on the rabbit’s head gently, “Thank you.”

                        Aziraphale knew why Francis was so content in the demon’s palm.  By all accounts Francis was a real, living, breathing, nose wiggling rabbit. But he did not come into being the normal way, with approximately eleven hundred brothers and sisters. Francis had been miracled into existence by Aziraphale and perhaps a bit of his, let’s call it ‘tender tolerance’, of the demon pumped through those teensy weensy veins and arteries.  He considered telling him this, but he smiled up at the demon as he scratched behind the Freed Range Francis’ ear causing a bit of a foot thumping.

                        “He’s clearly a Leporidae of refined taste. He does seem quite at ease, happy even, maybe your gift with flora is slowly spreading to fauna as well. But let’s not schedule any safaris or zoological expeditions just yet.” He didn’t really want to take Francis, quite the opposite but he felt like the old snake might get a bit self conscious if left on bun duty. He scooped the rabbit into his arms and regarded Crowley a little guiltily.

                        “So,” he said slowly. “-fancy a spot of lunch? As repayment for returning a fledgling illusionist’s lovely assistant? There’s a delightful sushi restaurant just down the block.  Katsuo fresh each morning. If you’re available of course?”

                        • AJ Crowley
                          AJ Crowley

                          As soon as the subject of burglary was broached, the demon began warming up, in a figurative sense. Causing chaos was always enjoyable in and of itself but there was something especially satisfying about getting Aziraphale to approve.

                          Didn't mean he couldn't have a bit of fun feigning denial though.

                          "No, no, nothing like that." Technically Dr Gearloose had broken into his place first. "Okay, maybe a little. The key thing is I got our esteemed scientific friend to.. change his mind."

                          That choice of words was no accident. He was looking forward to seeing that stroke of diabolical genius play out over the next few days.

                          "Good thing too," he added, snapping his fingers to make any loose.. hares poof off his person like a cloud of overzealous pollen. "You should've seen the horrors he had planned for your fuzzball. Awful, experiments, needles, lasers. You don't want to hear about it."

                          Particularly not when the mood had finally begun to lighten and a truce of the tastiest sort was proposed.

                          "Lunch sounds devine." 

                          Trusting that would be taken in the spirit of word play and not as a slur, Crowley slid forward to open the door for both cottontails.

                          "Come on Barbie, let's go party."

                          Ah ah ah yeah.

                          • Aziraphale
                            Aziraphale

                            "Good heavens." Aziraphale said loyally in regard to the approximation of Crowley's predicted mistreatment of the rabbit. He didn't know that the angel had entertained the scientist at length himself and had determined that Francis was not truly in any immediate danger. Or so he had hoped. But Crowley didn't need to know that. So Aziraphale let him have his fun.

                            Francis was set in his luxurious hutch before the angel swept over to the door with a playful smile all his own.

                            "Worked up a devil of an appetite myself." 

                            And walked out into the city with a demon at his side bent for sticky rice and fresh sashimi.

                            Ooo~ Ooo~.