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Blossom, the lovely stars

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Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,

Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

The letter appeared on top of Saturday morning's post. After chatting with the carrier for a few moments and receiving his bundle of mail, Aziraphale folded the weekend's newspapers under his arm. He regarded the crisp white envelope; it was completely blank. He turned it over. On the back, the envelope had been sealed with a blood-red wax stamp in the shape of a coiled snake. 

A conspiratorial smile found itself on his face and he banished it out of habit. Aziraphale set the letter carefully aside on his desk and made a cup of tea, delighting in the comfort of a familiar ritual and a new sensation: a tingle of anticipation at the letter's contents. He hummed to himself and silently wished human customers away from the door for the rest of the morning.

With his tea steaming comfortingly on a cleared corner of his antique desk, Aziraphale broke the letter's seal. In the early days of the Arrangement, before the bookshop became his permanent earthly address, he and Crowley had often exchanged correspondence that had become less and less cryptic as the years passed. Each time, Crowley had signed his name with a flourish and Aziraphale had always imagined him holding his tongue between his lips in concentration as he waved his pen about. His letters, like everything else about Crowley, were done with style.

Your presence is requested tomorrow morning, Sunday the 18th of August 2019 for a picnic, as scheduled in 1967. Transport will arrive at ten o'clock sharp. Refreshments will be served. Obviously.

-Anthony J Crowley

Aziraphale's face erupted in a smile that he tried to hide and failed, before remembering there wasn't a reason for him to hide anymore. Heaven was not watching, and even if they were, the Principality Aziraphale didn't give a hoot. He smiled, and not for the first time since the business at the airbase in Tadfield, allowed his corporation to radiate with joy at the thought of his demonic counterpart's dastardly plans. Apparently such plans involved picnicking. Aziraphale sipped his tea and closed his eyes, basking in a warm glow of contentment and anticipation.

---

The Bentley slowed so abruptly that were he human, Aziraphale would've gotten whiplash. He rubbed his neck and put his hands on the glovebox in a show of protest at the rapid deceleration.

"Crowley!" 

Crowley scowled at the line of cars that had forced him to slow down to a more human-friendly speed of 20 mph. He made a low growl in the back of his throat at the tan Toyota Camry in front of them, and the unassuming Japanese import jumped forward a few meters in an instinctive fear response.

Aziraphale breathed deeply. He put a reassuring hand on Crowley's knee, feeling it jumping nervously.

"We'll get there, dear. Wherever there is," he said. "They don't have the kind of time that we do." He nodded to the line of cars, driven by a line of miserable humans. Crowley sat back and threw his arm across the seat behind Aziraphale's shoulders. He made a snotty face, but his knee stilled. 

Almost an hour later, Crowley maneuvered the Bentley off the road in a spot that had miraculously opened between a Volkswagen with a fog escaping from the windows and a very expensive convertible with the top down. He mumbled angrily to himself as he checked his watch. Throwing open the driver's side door with a force that should have broken the ancient vehicle's poor hinges, he stalked to the passenger side and opened the door.

Aziraphale said nothing as Crowley led him through a mixed crowd of young hipsters, aging hipsters, moms and dads reliving their glory days, and punk kids on a rare unsupervised outing. Crowley had retrieved a trunk from the boot of the Bentley but he'd worn such a scowl that Aziraphale thought it best to let it pass without comment. Crowley led him past the crowds and up a small hill to a grove of trees overlooking the field. 

"Oh Crowley, it's-"

"Ahhhh, no, no, no, no!" Crowley groaned, thrashing about dramatically. "It can't be!"

A dozen or so tents had been set up in the field with signs advertising food and merchandise for sale. A large portable stage appeared on the opposite side of the field from where they stood. Crew members in black t-shirts bustled about, setting up microphones and adjusting speakers. Several large racks of lights had been set up on both sides; thick groups of cables snaked through the grass every which way.

"I didn't know you were taking me to a music festival. Is it a bebop group that you like, Crowley?" he asked, taking the trunk from his hands before Crowley damaged its contents by jostling it about. Heaven- or actually, Crowley- only knew what type of delicacies could be contained within.

"No!" Crowley snarled, glaring at the activities below. "I didn't plan on taking you to the last day of a rock show, angel, give me a little credit. This was supposed to be a ... field. Just a field. Not a blasted music festival." He curled his lip in disdain.

Aziraphale thought for a moment. "But Crowley, didn't you invent music festivals?" he asked. "I seem to recall thinking it was a lovely idea when you told me about it, humans gathering together in a shared love of a type of music."

"Lovely idea? Oh, sure," Crowley said, his head bobbing as he grew more and more agitated. "The idea is sound, but the actual practice causes more misery than even I anticipated." He waved his arm, gesturing to the scene below them. About a dozen people were clearly just waking up on the grass. Half of them retched, not making it past the blankets they'd need to sit on later. The other half groaned and clutched their heads, shading their eyes from the bright sun. "Hangovers, Aziraphale. Hangovers are bad enough for the humans, but combine them with the outdoors and Hell starts looking like paradise to these poor saps."

Aziraphale frowned. Quite a few people were standing about, watching workers set up the stage or handing over cash to buy festival merchandise or beer. "Not everyone seems miserable, though," he said. "I'm sure someone enjoys this. They must, otherwise why would they attend?"

"That's the beauty of it!" Crowley said. "No one really enjoys it, but they keep going so they can say they did. They buy overpriced t-shirts and ghastly overpriced food and drink, and even if they don't have a miserable time at the event itself, they'll check their accounts later and realize what they've spent. Then comes the teeth gnashing as they realize they've bankrupted themselves to spend hours on their feet in the hot sun, mumbling along with a song that would've sounded better over the loudspeakers at the grocery store. The misery of the music festival lasts longer than the longest set of the most washed-up band itself."

Crowley wiped a hand across his forehead as they stood watching sweaty people accumulating in the beer line. After a few tense moments, Crowley appeared to have made a decision. "Wait here," he said, and with a whoosh, he disappeared with a flutter of black wings.

"Crowley! What are you-" 

He'd barely finished when Crowley landed back at the same spot, breathing heavily. His hair had been blown about, making it look wind-swept and absolutely irresistible. Coming down from the air with his wings out, he looked a little wild.

"Come on." He grabbed Aziraphale's hand and pulled him through the trees, heading away from the festival. They walked for long enough that Aziraphale was just about to complain when they came upon a very small clearing. It was barely a break in the trees, but it was flat and, most importantly, secluded. "There!" Crowley pointed at the flat ground, looking victorious, panicked and a little sweaty.

With a snap of his fingers, a red patterned blanket found itself transported from the backseat of the Bentley and spread on the ground. Crowley threw himself down on it and arranged his long limbs in something resembling a casual sprawl.  He snapped his fingers again and a portable stereo appeared. He took the trunk as Aziraphale sat primly on the blanket next to him.

"Don't look," Crowley said. Aziraphale closed his eyes and heard Crowley releasing the latch on the trunk. There was a clinking sound and a rustling as Crowley retrieved whatever he'd stowed inside. Then a pause. "Shit."

"What is it? Can I open my eyes?"

"Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit," Crowley hissed.

When he opened his eyes, Aziraphale saw a sticky mess running down Crowley's hands onto his lap and the blanket. 

"Oh my." A platter of precisely cut sandwiches with a scoop of potato salad had somehow appeared intact from the trunk, but a pink gooey substance was oozing down the platter towards them from a bowl in Crowley's hand. The demon had frozen in place with his mouth open, and if he hadn't looked so aghast, Aziraphale would've giggled at his plight. Instead, he stuck his finger into the mess and licked it cautiously. It tasted of strawberries and sticky sunshine.

"Mmm, is this gelato?"

Crowley nodded, still stricken silent. He carefully picked one of the sandwiches that had been mostly spared and took a bite. It tasted yummy, but it was hard to ignore the hint of strawberry that clashed with the flavor of the deli meat. Aziraphale tried gallantly to school his features into something other than disappointment. He hummed in appreciation of the gesture, if not the taste itself.

Gently, he asked, "Crowley, did you miracle the trunk to keep a perfect temperature for a hot sandwich?"

Crowley nodded. He looked off into the distance and scowled, still apparently too frustrated to speak.

"And did you forget you'd included gelato in the trunk?"

Crowley nodded again. He looked down at his pink goo-covered hands and made a face. He wiped his hands on his jeans, smearing pink stuff all over his leg. Letting out a frustrated shout, he finally snapped his sticky fingers and the mess disappeared.

"How about some music?" Aziraphale asked, turning the knob on the stereo. He didn't know how to use it, but he expected it to turn on no matter what he did and the stereo obliged. The wheels on the cassette spun and Aziraphale smiled as a familiar song started to play.

I can dim the lights and sing you songs full of sad things

We can do the tango just for two

I can serenade and gently play on your heartstrings

Be a valentino just for you

Ooh love...

"No!" Crowley dove across Aziraphale's lap for the stereo. He yanked out the cassette tape violently and brought it close to his face to check the label. "No, no, no! I could swear this hadn't been in there that long! Argh!" He tossed the tape onto the ground and stood up. Before he crushed the tape under his boot, Aziraphale spied the handwritten label: Romantic songs for THE PICNIC (NO Queen!)

Crowley put his hands on his hips and faced the now-fading sun. He let out a sigh and hunched his shoulders. "Let's just go, angel. I'll take you home," he said. His voice was quiet, defeated.

Reaching towards him, Aziraphale said, "Crowley wait-" But the demon had already disappeared the blanket and stereo. He picked up the trunk and followed Crowley's bowed head through the trees towards the car.

Aziraphale knew better than to request music for the drive home. The silence in the car stretched thin as the afternoon wore into evening, then dusk. Crowley drove with uncharacteristic listlessness, not even bothering to swerve past a lumbering old Cadillac traveling at half the speed limit.

They’d almost reached the main road back to London when Crowley’s eyebrows pinched together.

"Wait!" he shouted out of the blue. He jerked the steering wheel violently to the side and the Bentley careened off the road straight through a gate that Aziraphale was sure hadn’t been open a moment earlier. Tall grass whipped the undercarriage, and Crowley murmured words of encouragement to his car. 

"Crowley you can't drive into the middle of a field!" Aziraphale exclaimed, gripping the dash.

Crowley grit his teeth and though he couldn't see his eyes, Aziraphale recognized the determined set of his jaw. This was the look of a demon that would not be stopped. The Bentley's tires crunched as they rolled over piles of dry leaves and twigs that had fallen on the early autumn grass. The car bobbed up and down on the uneven ground.

He braced himself as Crowley peered through the windshield, seeming to search for something in the sky. Once he found whatever he was looking for, the car rolled to a stop. Crowley slapped the steering wheel fondly and turned to Aziraphale. His grin was so wide the cats in Cheshire would be impressed.

"Have you gone mad?" Aziraphale turned around to look out the back window of the Bentley at the parallel tracks its tires had made in the grass.

Crowley didn't answer. He flung the Bentley's door open with a manic glee and a force that, again, should've broken the ancient hinge. He bounded out into the grass and around the hood. Crowley opened Aziraphale's door and held out his arm, as if they were attending an exclusive premier event rather than trespassing in a muddy field in the middle of nowhere at night.

"Crowley," Aziraphale said, taking his arm. "What are you doing?"

"Want to show you something," he said, with a sly smile that Aziraphale had secretly adored for centuries. He closed the passenger door and they stood, arms linked. Somewhere in the distance, a sleepy cow let out a sleepy grunt. Crowley snapped his fingers and the picnic blanket appeared on top of the Bentley's hood. "Come on up," Crowley said, and climbed on the car with more slithering than strictly necessary.

"I don't-" 

"Angel, come on up."

Azirpahale complied, hoisting himself onto the warm hood of the car and trusting that the nearly ninety year old vehicle would hold the weight of one occult entity and one ethereal being. Crowley made room for him and snapped his fingers again, conjuring a deep red pillow for his head to rest against the windshield.

"What did you want me to see, Crowley?" he asked. Then, as he looked up at the stars lighting up the deep velvet sky above them, said, "Oh my." 

The moon hung low, half-full, glowing with enough light that he could make out the line of the horizon and the outline of Crowley's face beside him. A cool breeze ruffled their hair and sang softly as it danced through the long grass. Far away, a gentle whoosh reminded him of the roadway Crowley had peeled off to find this place.

"The stars are beautiful, aren't they?" Aziraphale's voice was soft, reverent. He looked up at the heavens and felt a swell of gratitude for his place on this particular star. With this particular companion.

"Mmmm," Crowley said. It was more of a rumble in his throat than a word.

Aziraphale turned his head. Crowley faced him, on his side with his head propped in his hand. He'd pushed his sunglasses up to his forehead. Aziraphale had seen the soft look he wore on his face only once before, over champagne and a toast to the world. 

"You're not even looking!"

"Don't need to look to know they're nice," Crowley said. One side of his mouth twitched. "I made them."

Aziraphale's lips formed an 'o' in astonishment. "You made them?"

Crowley nodded, then grunted. "Well not all of them. Obviously." He couldn't quite meet Aziraphale's eyes. "You know, before ."

"You never told me."

Crowley cocked his head to the side and looked thoughtful. "You never asked."

He was right. They'd never talked about before . For all his taunts over the years, Aziraphale knew it wasn’t something Crowley spoke about lightly. Crowley talked plenty. He railed against the injustices he saw in the world. He rambled about everyday objects and the eccentricities of the human race. Ducks. But he’d never freely told Aziraphale about himself, before .

"Would you have told me? If I'd asked?" Aziraphale asked. He gazed up at Crowley, whose face was framed by a halo of stars. He kept his voice soft, remembering Crowley’s careful words on a bench after the end of the world. "Before Tadfield. Before ... our side?"

Crowley smiled, wistful but honest. "Probably not."

Aziraphale smiled back. "Show me," he asked.

Crowley pointed. "See that one? There's a cluster over here just up from the horizon. And past that is a beautiful little dwarf star," he said, gesturing proudly. He squinted. "Not sure if you'll be able to see this one, not the right time of year ... Oh! There's a red giant that came out really nice, let me see if I can find it." Crowley talked and waved at the sky, his voice growing stronger as the night grew darker.

Aziraphale moved close so their sides were pressed together. The Bentley's engine ticked and pinged beneath them as it cooled. He felt the softness of the blanket Crowley had conjured underneath his hands and the pillow he'd created for his head. Crowley's body was warm and his lanky limbs coiled perfectly around Aziraphale’s. He took Crowley's hand and held it tightly. With his other one, Crowley pointed at the stars and told tales full of starlight and magic.