|More GO Fic: Modest, Yet Refined (Part 2)
||[Aug. 18th, 2012|10:12 pm]
(she lives between pages)
Title: Modest, Yet Refined (Part 2 / 2; Part 1 is here.)
Pairing/Characters: Aziraphale/Crowley, Sophia, Anathema (first part contains Pippa, Uriel, and Madame Tracy)
Notes: This constitutes CoT 'Verse #14. From now on, if you want to see where a piece falls in the overall order, default to checking the directory. mizstorge and write_rewrite are incredibly persistent; it's Crowley's turn to make a big decision.
Summary: In search of the unattainable, it's wise to bring along some friends.
"I won't need it," Crowley insisted. "We're meeting at Caffè Nero."
"It's a two and a quarter hours' drive," Aziraphale replied, handing him the thermos.
"An hour and forty-five when I drive it," Crowley said, but he didn't hand the tea back.
Aziraphale kissed him, and they stumbled back against the door-frame.
"You'll be back late?" he asked, straightening Crowley's sunglasses.
"Possibly," Crowley said. "I promised I'd drive her to her parents' place this evening."
"That takes you an hour and a half out of your way," Aziraphale sighed. "Very well."
Crowley opened the door, thermos clutched to his chest, and paused for a moment.
"I'll come back," he said, stepping out into the sun. "I'll always come back."
They stood palm to palm through the glass for a moment, and then Crowley left.
The drive seemed less ominous than the last time Crowley had made it (although the primary difference may have been Aziraphale's tea). It took him a while to find parking, however, which necessitated profuse apologies on sighting Sophia in the coffee shop. She'd situated herself in the back right-hand corner, the exact spot where they'd first met. She snapped her book shut and rose to hug him. Her black hair was impossibly soft against his jaw, several airy wisps escaping her tight fishtail braid.
He held onto her like a lifeline; why she comforted him so, he couldn't say.
"I got your email," Sophia murmured. "You're having a rough time, aren't you?"
Crowley let go of her and stepped back, adjusting his jacket.
"Now I know what hu—you mean when you say someone's tough to shop for."
Sophia narrowed her eyes at him, unblinking, and earnestly studied his face.
"I'm nearly there. I can't get Mum to talk straight about you two, no matter what. I accept impossible things; I've grown up with quite a number of them as just a matter of course. You're one of those things, aren't you? You and Aziraphale, I mean."
Crowley smiled nervously, took her offered hand, and gestured toward the door.
"It's almost eleven," he said. "Even the most cantankerous of the lot will be open."
"I'm sorry," she said, leading him out into daylight. "I shouldn't pry."
"I'd rather she told you," Crowley admitted, following her past an open-air fruit stand. "Or let you work it out for yourself," he said, watching her trail delicate fingertips over cherries, pomegranates, and apples. She handed the vendor fifty pence and took one.
She gave him a dazzling grin over her shoulder as she walked, and time stopped.
(The resemblance was there to torment him, he imagined: black-haired, headstrong, and brave. If any gene pool had a chance at holding the memory of her likeness fast, he didn't doubt the Device family tree one whit. And she'd gone and married Adam.)
"The first one's just up here," she told him. "Had a look in the window yesterday."
You're proof something went right in spite of it all, he thought, following her inside.
The establishment reminded Crowley of every other antique-dealer's shop he'd ever run across, Aziraphale's included. Dim lighting, dust, and a certain hush: you'd sooner talk in a bloody library. Sophia trailed along the first glass case, carefully concealing the apple in her pocket. It was unusually early in the season to see russets.
She'd already taken a bite, telltale sheen of juice on her upturned hand.
"Can I help you?" asked the proprietress brusquely, looking up from her magazine.
"No," Sophia reassured her before Crowley could open his mouth. "We're just looking."
The woman's features softened. She nodded and went back to reading.
Crowley paused over a display of Victorian pocket-watches. He remembered a time when Aziraphale carried one, although he couldn't say when that had stopped. Nineteen thirty, perhaps, or nineteen forty? He wouldn't have minded if that feature had stuck around, because pocket-watches had never really fallen out of fashion.
"Hey," said Sophia, quietly. "There are some gents' rings over here. Come and see."
They were, as Crowley had feared, nearly all masonic pieces. The ones that weren't masonic were signets engraved with cryptic initials, all of them wrong. There was a shield-shaped one set with coral, and even a split-setting with opal and lapis, but he'd seen any number of pieces similar to those on eBay.
"Not quite right," Crowley said. "They're all too clunky and impersonal."
Sophia frowned. "Now I know what you mean by hard to shop for."
They tried three more shops before deciding it was time to get lunch, and none of them proved more helpful than the first. Sophia suggested Rainbow Café; although it was a popular student hang-out, she assured him the food was worth any ambient undergraduate chatter they might have to endure. She managed to tempt him in on the merits of its organic wine list alone. Crowley wasn't sure the Can Vandrell Tinto was going to pair well with his tagine l'algerienne, but what the hell. Fifteen quid for a bottle of quality Spanish red was difficult to pass up under any circumstances.
Sophia learned the hard way that spinach lasagna didn't pair well, either.
"Mum said you guys took her out the other day," she said, on her second glass.
"That's right," Crowley said, pushing couscous and sultanas around on his plate.
"She and Aziraphale get on," Sophia continued. "Does it ever bug you, his social life?"
Crowley shrugged and emptied the dregs of the wine into his glass.
"Most of them are friends of mine, too. I'm more of a homebody these days, is all."
"You're not as good with crowds. There's nothing wrong with preferring one-on-one."
Guess I've always been like that, he thought. Where one equals Aziraphale.
Sophia almost dropped her fork. "Did you...did you just let me..."
Crowley gave her an innocent look. "How did you put it? Just one of those things?"
"It's not funny when you grow up with a mum who can do that," she said. "It's even less funny when you realize you're reading your younger sisters all the damn time unless you make a real effort to shut it out. So, kindly don't take the piss."
"Your birthright," Crowley told her, "is complicated. You'd better get used to it."
"Adam's part of it," she said, emptying her glass. "He must be, the wanker."
"Finish your lasagna," Crowley said. "I want to see if they'll sell me another bottle of this stuff on the way out." Much like with her mother, even mild drunkenness gave way to bluntness and cursing. He paid the tab, and they left with more of the wine.
They meandered their way through four more antique shops before Crowley announced that he'd had it up to here with the nonstop, multi-stone setting sapphire and ruby nonsense. Still slightly tipsy, Sophia agreed. They made their way to the riverside green behind King's College Chapel and opened the second bottle.
"I think," Sophia said, passing the wine, "you've got to consider later pieces."
Crowley took a long swig and gave her a bleary stare, wiping his chin on his sleeve.
"Later than what?"
"Later than Regency and Victorian. Have you tried searching for Art Deco stuff?"
Crowley cringed and passed her the bottle.
"No thanksss. The architecture was bad enough."
"My friend's dad's a jeweler," Sophia said. "He sells estate pieces. Anyway, he gave Marjorie this gorgeous platinum ring from around nineteen twenty for Christmas. My point is mostly that platinum would suit Aziraphale better than any shade of gold."
Crowley lay back in the grass and considered this, watching some clouds drift by.
"Maybe," he said. "Expensssive, though. I mean, guess this once wouldn't hurt."
Sophia leaned over him, braid dangling, and plucked off his sunglasses.
"You hiss when you're drunk," she said. "Or you hiss when I'm drunk. Either way."
Crowley put his arms behind his head and shrugged.
"It can't be helped. Ssso, platinum? Really?"
"Yeah," she said, setting the sunglasses on his chest, and flopped down beside him.
He must have drifted off, because the sun was low in the sky when Sophia shook him awake. She must have done, too, because there were grass-imprints on her chin.
"Crowley," she whispered, lightly patting his cheek. "I've thought of something."
"What?" he asked, replacing his sunglasses. "Surely it's too late, though."
"Too late for the shops," she said. "But not for what I'm thinking of. Take me home."
Crowley knew better than to ignore that kind of quiet urgency. He helped Sophia to her feet and they walked arm-in-arm to where he'd left the Bentley, both of them more or less sober by the time they got there. He'd surreptitiously seen to it.
"This is still warm," Sophia said, examining the thermos once she'd buckled herself in.
"And it'll never cool," Crowley said, jamming the Bentley into reverse. "Have some."
Aziraphale's estimate of an hour and a half from Cambridge to West Drayton wasn't too far off, although Crowley managed to cut it by about twenty minutes. By the time they pulled up in the Device-Pulsifer driveway, Crowley had heard Sophia sing along with all of the words to his favorite Velvet Underground album. She clearly hadn't got her taste in music from either of her parents. He followed her up the front stairs.
"Eight o'clock," said Anathema, answering the door. "Better than Adam ever did."
"Mum, shut it," Sophia said. "I've got to ask you something. It's important."
Before Crowley could so much as say hello, she'd stepped up close and begun to whisper something quick and complicated in Anathema's ear. Her mother stepped back and made a face, as if trying to remember something she had forgot on purpose.
"We must have it somewhere," she told Sophia, "but if you think I'm digging around in that attic with you, forget it. Why don't you two go up and have a rummage?"
Sophia hugged Anathema hard, and then beckoned Crowley into the house.
The way to the attic was up a rickety pull-down ladder that narrowly missed hitting Sophia on the head. Crowley soldered the connecting joints solid with a glare as he climbed up after her. He'd worry about reversing the process later; the last thing he needed was for Adam Young's new bride to break her neck on his watch.
"Gah, it's stuffy up here," Sophia wheezed, crawling on all fours to reach a dangling chain. She yanked on it once, and harsh orange light filled the cramped space. "Mum said she thinks that what we're looking for is in the Device Trunk."
Crowley disguised his snicker as a violent sneeze.
"What are we looking for?" he asked.
"Treasure," said Sophia, gravely.
They had to move five or six boxes in order to get at the trunk, which was large, unfriendly, and sported an ancient padlock. Sophia swore under her breath and muttered something about a key, but Crowley touched the lock and it instantly clicked open in his hand. With a wordless nod, they each took a corner of the lid and lifted.
"Ages ago," Sophia said, leaning to feel around inside while Crowley held the massive thing open, "when Mum was on one of her reciting-family-history kicks, she said something about her paternal great-grandfather being a metalsmith. We have a silver tea service that he made, plus some brass and copper vessels from when he was young and learning the ropes." She drew out a thick sheaf of papers wrapped in a leather wallet that didn't quite contain them and set them aside. "He didn't just make housewares; he'd sometimes try his hand at jewelry, too. He only ever made that for family, given the cost of precious metals. Mum has a pair of elaborate gold earrings that she made. In fact, I think she wore them to the wedding."
Crowley shifted from crouching to kneeling, still bracing the lid up with both hands.
Hesitantly, he said, "Are you telling me..."
"He was making jewelry around the right time," Sophia said, followed by a triumphant exclamation that made Crowley jump. She sat back on her heels and presented a jewelry box covered in moth-eaten dark blue velvet. "You can close the trunk."
Crowley did as he was told and settled down cross-legged beside her.
Sophia brushed a fine layer of dust off of the box and opened it.
To say that the contents of the box would fetch a small fortune was, in Crowley's estimation, grossly short of the mark. The bottom was strewn with bright, winking artifacts in the artificial light. Sophia picked up a few gold rings to study them more closely, rejecting them on the basis of both make and material (most seemed to be bands etched with abstract floral patterns or signets engraved with initials). She picked aside tangled chains and filigree earrings set with emeralds, revealing another cluster of rings. Diamond and sapphire solitaires. She picked up one piece in polished white metal and eyed the inside of the band. It was thicker than most of the others, and Crowley couldn't see the stone because she was holding it upside-down.
"Birmingham," Sophia said. "There's the anchor. Next to it, nine-five-zero. Platinum."
"Do you all go around with a catalogue of family possessions fresh in your minds?"
Rather than answer, she turned the ring around to study the setting.
There. There it was, out of nothing, as if she'd known his mind and wished it so.
"What is that?" Crowley whispered. "Between the diamonds, what—"
Sophia tapped the central stone with her fingernail, held it up to the light.
"Damned if I know," she said. "There's a tiny bit of translucency. Smoky quartz?"
Crowley closed his eyes. Five hundred dollars he'd won from Uriel. Would it even...
"Jesus, that old thing," Anathema said, poking her head up through the trapdoor.
"It's heavy," Sophia said, putting it in Crowley's hand. "Whose was it, Mum?"
"Your great-great grandfather made that for himself, the old miser," Anathema said. "In his memoirs, he swears he'll never work with that blasted metal again—I mean, look at how he grooved the band, carving the mold can't have been easy."
Crowley just stared at the ring where it sat in his palm. He didn't dare look up.
"Mum," said Sophia, very softly. "We searched all day. There was nothing."
"He made that in nineteen eighteen," Anathema said. "Mad project in madder times."
Crowley held the ring out to her. "Your husband should wear it."
Anathema didn't take the ring. She fixed Crowley with an ironic look.
"I offered it to Newt once upon a time," she said. "We came across the jewelry box when we relocated from Jasmine Cottage to here. Every time I turned around, I found it sitting on the bathroom sink or the shower ledge. He said it felt strange, just wasn't him, so I put it away again. It looked modest, yet refined, I told him. His loss."
Stop it, Crowley thought. He held the ring out to Sophia instead.
"Adam, then," he said. "Surely. It's a bit large and all, but I don't doubt—"
Sophia took Crowley's hand in both of her own, folding the ring into it.
"Whatever you did all those years ago," she said, "I can't even begin to guess. Mum said once that she owed you a debt so great she'd never even begin to pay it back. Presumptuous of me, maybe, but she's standing right there and has no objections."
"I can't," Crowley said, realizing he hadn't blinked in several minutes. "I really can't."
"Would a token payment make you feel better?" asked Anathema. "Go on, make me an offer. Have you got a fiver in your pocket? I'm sure Sophia would lend you one."
"I won a bet," said Crowley, weakly, "but I don't think it's enough."
"Your bet winnings for my great-grandfather's dead-end project of a ring. Sold!"
"Aren't you even going to ask how much you've made?" Sophia asked her mother.
"Five hundred dollars, as it happens," said Crowley. "At a terrible exchange rate."
"Come on," Anathema said. "Stop staring and put it in your pocket. I've made tea."
Crowley followed them down the ladder in a daze, fizzling the solder as he went.
Crowley glanced at the clock as he drove, cursing under his breath.
Ten minutes till midnight. He hadn't meant to stay out that late, but how on earth could he have refused the offer of tea after he'd all but been given a Device family heirloom that could easily have fetched two thousand quid or more at auction?
Crowley flew past Pippa's cottage at seventy miles per hour, noting nonetheless that every light appeared to be on. He wondered if Aziraphale had rung her up for a long chat, or if he'd arrive home to find that Aziraphale had gone to see her.
Nearly there, he thought, pressing one palm flat to his pocket. Nearly.
Two minutes later, he pulled into his own drive. The kitchen windows glowed softly, and even after Crowley had killed the ignition, he couldn't bring himself to vacate the Bentley. He was safe there. Safe from the discovery that he hadn't quite got it right after all, or, worse yet, that Aziraphale would turn out to have no need—
The porch light went on as Aziraphale opened the door.
In for a penny, in for a pound, Crowley thought, and got out of the car.
"No wine after all," said Aziraphale as he approached, with slight disappointment.
"There were two bottles," Crowley admitted, climbing the stairs, "but we drank them."
"She'll have needed a day off," Aziraphale said. "My dear, come in. It's chilly."
Crowley held the door open, frozen there on the threshold.
Aziraphale took another step backward onto the kitchen tile, expectant.
I couldn't have planned this, thought Crowley, and swallowed hard. He let go of the door and took off his sunglasses, sticking them in his pocket one-handed. He snagged the ring unseen with his pinkie, to make sure it wouldn't get away.
"Crowley, is something the matter?" Aziraphale asked.
He thought about the last time he'd been in this position. It had been over the matter of a sodding plaque, which hung above his head even as they spoke. He'd never had a knack for surprises, but they were worth it if Aziraphale was on the receiving end.
"I hope not," Crowley said, withdrawing his hand from his pocket. He fisted the ring against the hem of his jacket and reached for Aziraphale's left hand with terrified determination. It was a bit far, so he stepped forward. And tripped.
How he'd managed to keep hold of the ring, he wasn't certain, especially not with Aziraphale, grave and concerned, bent over to help him up on his knees.
"You're not hurt," Aziraphale murmured, touching his cheek.
Not a question, it was never a question.
"I will be if I've got this wrong," Crowley said, taking hold of Aziraphale's left hand again and sliding the ring into place. Sizing on the spot was easy; it would burn about as much as Aziraphale materializing his own ring into place had done.
Instead of flinching, Aziraphale lifted his hand up to the porch light and stared.
"Carré cut diamonds," he said, slowly, his voice clipped. "These are...rare. Crowley—"
"I didn't do anything stupid," Crowley babbled, using Aziraphale's dangling right hand to haul himself to his feet. "Don't ask me where it came from; that'll spoil the moment. Oh, what do I know; maybe you've guessed. All you need to know is that I've been to hell and back again in order to find it, metaphorically of course, and I—"
Aziraphale drew him inside with a crushing kiss, slammed the door behind them with a thought. "You didn't need to," he said against Crowley's mouth. "You're enough."
"Nonsense," managed Crowley, giddy enough to feel lightheaded. "It's tradition."
Aziraphale kissed him again. "We'll not hear the end of it."
"We weren't going to anyway," Crowley said, grinning helplessly.
He'd email Anathema's bank details to Uriel, but definitely not tonight.
—Continue: Until Death—