Chapter 1: prologue
Day one of being a vampire slayer — The Vampire Slayer — Adam Young told his three best friends, and then he tried to get business cards made.
Day two, he told his parents, but only because he needed their bank account to pay for the business cards, and because he knew them well enough to know he couldn’t get away with covering it up for long. They were not thrilled. They bought the business cards, nonetheless.
Day three, he met his new babysitter. Watcher. Whatever. It didn’t matter what they called him, Adam was unimpressed. He didn’t understand how a chubby middle-aged nerd was supposed to keep him in line; it wasn’t like he could beat Adam in a fight. His job was simply to tell Adam what to do, and if Adam didn’t want to do it, he wasn’t going to.
He tried to talk through this issue with his friends, expecting that the three of them together would be able to convince him to not start breaking the rules until at least a week into the new gig. As much as he was having difficulty respecting the watcher’s authority, he really didn’t fancy the idea of being reported to the council for insubordination before he’d even gotten the chance to kill anything.
“I don’t think that’s the point,” Wensleydale suggested, making sense in the infuriating way he often did. “He’s not a cop; he’s more like a teacher.”
“Well. I don’t like teachers, much,” said Adam.
“Yeah, no one does,” Brian said, “but this is a teacher who teaches you how to fight and kill and stuff.”
Pepper nodded. “Way better than biology.”
“That — that’s not… quite… what I do,” said the watcher, who up until this point, had been doing a rather good job of watching the conversation play out, looking horrified and exasperated. Four heads turned to look at him, having all but forgotten he was there.
“Alright then, what do you do, Mister. Um.” Adam looked around at his friends, hoping that one of them would supply him with a name.
“Mister Fail,” Brian offered.
“Mister Fool,” Pepper snickered.
“Mister Fell,” Wensleydale corrected. “A.Z. Fell.”
The Mister Fell in question took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yes. I introduced myself not five minutes ago.”
“What’s the A stand for?”
“Brian, don’t be stupid,” Pepper said, rolling her eyes. “What’s the Z stand for?”
Adam brightened abruptly, flashing a conspiratorial smile. “Doesn’t matter,” he said, “I’m gonna call him Az.”
“I wish you wouldn’t,” said Mister Fell.
“That’s cool,” Adam said, “I’ll keep it in mind.” He made a show of folding his hands in his lap and fluttering his eyelashes innocently, the picture of curiosity. “So, Az, what is it that you do?”
The watcher closed his eyes and took a deep breath, the kind of deep breath that made it clear that he was counting to ten slowly in his head. “Well, in theory,” he began with a rehearsed, robotic level of calm, “my role is to guide and mentor you, to prepare you to fight demonic forces. Which includes some combat training, yes, as well as rigorous mental exercises.”
The boys exchanged disappointed glances, but Pepper’s ears perked up. “In theory, you say?”
Mister Fell nodded. “Yes, in theory. I can tell it’s going to be a lot more difficult than that, in practice.”
“Yeah, it is,” Adam laughed. “We’re gonna have so much fun .”
Chapter 2: in which we meet crowley
Crowley was very old, and very tired. He was tired of the guilt and self-loathing, he was tired of bribing hospital workers, he was tired of light pollution at night. And he was so goddamn tired of protecting the slayer. He had managed to keep the last one alive for nearly ten years before she pulled some stupid stunt and got herself iced, and now he was beginning to think that maybe every slayer had an intense death wish, just to spite him.
In any case, a new vampire slayer had been identified, just like always, and Crowley used his connections to figure out where the boy lived, and he relocated. Crowley had not put roots down in any one place in about a hundred years; he had one suitcase of belongings and a decent stack of cash, and he went where the slayer went. As a rule, he stayed low on the radar, avoided attention from vampires and humans alike, and didn’t make friends.
He wasn’t too proud to admit that he’d have liked to have friends, although perhaps he might have been too proud, if he’d had anyone to admit it to besides himself. It just wasn’t compatible with his lifestyle, given the traveling and the danger and the fact that he wasn’t altogether very pleasant to be around. Plus, anyone he would want to befriend would be mortal, which presented its own set of issues.
No, he was better off alone. Much simpler that way.
He reminded himself of this fact as he sat on a rooftop downtown, surveilling the streets, watching and waiting. The best way to run into the slayer, he had found, was to simply be a vampire. Their paths always crossed eventually.
It was around eleven o’clock when he managed to find the boy. He wasn’t alone, which was disconcerting, because Crowley knew from experience that the people close to the slayer rarely survived for long. From a distance, he couldn’t pin down how old the four of them looked, but something about the way they walked and laughed made him feel immediately, fiercely protective. He began to make his way down to the street, prepared for a long night of lurking in the shadows.
That plan went down the drain rather quickly, as he lost his foothold on a second-story windowsill and dropped like a sack of bricks on top of a dumpster.
“Shit,” he hissed, hopping to the ground and rubbing his sore hip. He turned toward the entrance of the alley he had landed in, toward the street, to see four small figures looking at him. So much for sneaking. He heard whispers coming from the kids.
“Did that guy just fall off a building?”
“Is he okay?”
“He looks fine.”
“That’s not normal.”
“No, it’s not.” This voice was firm, the kind of voice that immediately establishes itself as a leader, the kind of voice that should not come from a child. “I smell something fishy.”
“Might be the dumpster,” Crowley said, trying to alleviate the tension. Not a good idea to get on the slayer’s bad side this early on. Or at all.
At least three of the four children gave him withering stares.
“Right,” he said, inexplicably embarrassed, “forgot kids these days have an unfathomable sense of humor.” Then something occurred to him, which he’d known but hadn’t yet registered the implications: these were kids. He’d been so caught up in finding the slayer, he’d forgotten that they were kids, and he was an adult, by some definitions. He smiled in the dark. “Anyway, what are you lot doing out this late? It’s a school night, isn’t it?”
The boy stepped forward, holding himself with all the grace and confidence of a seasoned vampire slayer. Crowley was impressed, and a little scared.
“We’re not hurting anybody,” said the slayer. “We’re not doing anything wrong.”
“No, of course not.” Crowley swallowed nervously.
One of the other boys tugged at the slayer’s sleeve. “Adam,” he whispered, “what’s going on?”
Adam smiled. “It’s a good old-fashioned cowboy standoff, Brian. We’re sizin’ each other up.”
“I’m a friend,” Crowley said quickly. He fought the urge to correct the boy’s historical knowledge, for several reasons, and extended a slow, careful hand. “Anthony.” He introduced himself by his first name. The name that, by itself, couldn’t be traced back to the fourteenth century via countless gruesome deaths.
“A friend of who?” Adam narrowed his eyes, but shook Crowley’s hand tentatively. “I’m Adam.”
“A friend of…” Crowley threw a suspicious look in the direction of the three other kids, raising his eyebrows pointedly at Adam. “Er, a friend of you, specifically, if you get my drift.”
The slayer nodded, suddenly brightening. “Oh, that’s good, then. They know, by the way.”
“They - they know? Why are they patrolling the streets with you late at night if they know?”
The tallest of the boys, the one with glasses, piped up, “We’re helping.” He shifted his weight and furrowed his brow, turning to the slayer. “We are helping, right?”
“Course you’re helping, Wensley,” Adam reassured him. “Got three extra pairs of eyes, three extra pairs of hands. Makes it all much easier.”
Crowley stared at them with his jaw on the ground. “Holy shit,” he muttered to himself, then, turning to the kids: “You’re all going to get yourselves killed, fast. Please go home.”
The children bristled, exchanging indignant looks between the four of them at the audacity of this stranger to underestimate and patronize them. The girl scoffed from behind a curtain of fluffy, dark hair.
“Don’t see what’s so special about you,” she said, “that you get to tell us what to do.”
Crowley sighed and rubbed his eyes. “I’ve been doing this a lot longer than any of you. A lot longer. And I can’t in good conscience let a bunch of twelve-year-olds run around trying to fight the forces of evil. It just won’t do.” He shook his head, a bitter taste in his mouth. In all of his seven hundred years, he’d never sounded so much like his own father, and it disgusted him.
“We’re thirteen,” Adam objected.
“I’m fourteen in a week,” said the other boy, Brian.
Wensley nodded. “Yeah, and Pepper’s birthday’s next month.”
Crowley looked at the four of them, temporarily speechless. He felt that familiar hot rage in his gut at the council, at the unfairness of a remote club of old men sending a child to do their bidding. A child. Adam didn’t deserve this, and his friends sure as hell didn’t deserve to be exposed to the danger of it.
“Fine,” he said eventually, his voice strained, “go, do your thing. I’ll be around, if you ever… if you need help.”
“I won’t,” Adam said in the cocky tone that only an adolescent can pull off.
Crowley nodded slowly and watched as the kids walked away, quietly cataloguing each of their scents in his mind. Imagined what they would smell like if they were afraid, if they were in danger. Imagined what they would smell like if they were bleeding out on the pavement. These imagined scents are red flags, he told himself, scents to watch out for.
He followed the children at a distance until the sun started to rise.
Chapter 3: in which shit goes down
“How’d it go last night?” Brian’s unnatural and uncharacteristic level of concern seeped into his words and his posture.
Adam shrugged. “We got...five, I think.” He looked to Pepper, who gave him a thumbs up. “Yeah, five. And our friend popped in for a bit to help out. You guys were fine, right?”
Wensleydale nodded his head, adjusted the collar of his shirt. “We stayed out of the way and watched. Like spies. It was really cool. Only there was this one vamp who kept saying the stupidest things, I almost begged him to kill me instead.”
“That’s not funny,” Pepper scolded.
“So,” Adam said, bringing the group back together, united, as always, under the banner of listening to what Adam has to say , “splitting up — can we count that as a success, or what? If you lot aren’t comfortable with it, then we stick together.”
“No, it’s good,” Brian said, “as long as we switch up the pairings sometimes. Don’t wanna be stuck on surveillance with Wensley every single night.”
Adam grinned. “Of course we’ll change it up. It’s good, this way we can cover more ground. Like a well-oiled machine, or whatever.”
“What about our friend?” Pepper hesitated, looking at the boys, and continued, “Where does he factor in here?”
“He… well, he shows up when he wants to, doesn’t he,” Adam said diplomatically. “S’good to have him around, but he’s not really dependable , is he.”
“Who’s not dependable?” Mr. Fell popped in without warning, as was his custom. It was his library, after all, and a group of teenagers using it for social hour couldn’t really be surprised when the librarian chose to make an appearance.
They were surprised, nonetheless.
“Nobody,” Adam said quickly. “We were talking about a TV show.”
Mr. Fell peered over his reading glasses at the kids, sitting on tables with their feet on the chairs, exchanging furtive glances between the four of them, and hummed a noise of acknowledgement. Whether it was disapproval or vague disinterest or skepticism that colored his tone, they couldn’t tell. He took a seat and turned to them, effectively snuffing out their line of conversation.
“How was your patrol last night?” He was either blissfully unaware or deliberately denying that they clearly did not want him there.
Adam rolled his eyes dramatically. “It was fine. We’re entirely self-sufficient, I told you.”
“Yes, and you were quite convincing,” said the watcher, “but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let four teenagers run around hunting vampires unsupervised and not at least ask how it went.”
“It was fine,” Adam repeated, more emphatically. “Uneventful. Unremarkable. A snooze-fest.”
Mr. Fell pursed his lips and gave Adam a pointed look. “All of this is highly unorthodox,” he said testily. “I should be going with you. I should be making you fill out reports.” He paused for a moment, and added, “I should report you , actually, for bringing civilian children into this.”
The slayer nodded along with his scolding, eyed him sympathetically. “Yes, and we’re all very glad you aren’t doing any of that,” he said, “and very glad you’re gonna continue not doing any of that.”
Shaking his head slowly, the watcher blew out a breath. Whether it was some slayer power or just good old-fashioned boyish charm, Adam certainly had a way of persuading. Mr. Fell knew fully well that he wasn’t going to start enforcing the strict rules of the watchers council anytime soon, and Adam knew it just as well.
Catching a glimpse of the clock on the wall, the librarian straightened up in his seat like he was spring-loaded. “Oh, dear,” he muttered, eyes wide, “I have to get to a meeting. We’ll touch base later, yes?”
The four children nodded and gave various grunts of affirmation. Brian looked hopeful and said, “We should touch base during fifth period, I have an algebra test to wriggle out of.”
Mr. Fell, who was already half out the door, managed to shoot one last exasperated glance at the boy before he left, rolling his eyes.
“Is it just me,” Pepper said nonchalantly, after the librarian was safely out of the room, “or does he always sort of seem like he wants to kill us?”
Brian and Wensleydale nodded. Adam grinned. “Definitely me, at least,” he said, “but I think we’re safe. He’s too polite to kill anybody.”
“English people are weird like that,” Pepper said sagely.
Wensleydale cocked his head to the side and furrowed his brow. “You ever met an English person, besides him and the other one?”
“No,” Pepper conceded, “but I’ve heard.”
Wensleydale’s comment seemed to jog something in Brian’s memory, and he perked up, turning to face Adam. “Hey,” he said curiously, “why can’t we tell Az about our friend?”
The slayer bit his lip, the gears turning in his head. He hadn’t really thought about it before he lied to his watcher; it had just seemed like the right thing to do at the moment. Adam wasn’t one to feel guilty about deceiving authority figures, but he did wrinkle his brow and frown deeply, attempting to examine how this lie would actually benefit him.
“I dunno,” he said eventually. “Just think it’s maybe the kind of information to keep to ourselves, until we know some more.”
“That’s fair,” said Brian.
Wensleydale nodded his agreement. “If I know Az, he’d probably try to forbid us from talking to Anthony at all.”
Pepper folded her arms across her chest defiantly at the hypothetical prospect of being ordered around. “Why?” she asked petulantly. “Just because he’s a mysterious stranger who comes round at night and helps us out and we don’t know anything about him and we have no reason to trust him and he could be dangerous?”
“I know,” said Adam, “Az is outrageous sometimes with all this ‘ concern for our safety’ nonsense.”
“Irritating,” Brian agreed.
Pepper shook her head in feigned exasperation, a breath of a laugh giving it away. “Come on,” she said, jumping down from the table, “we should go to at least one class today.” She grabbed her bag and headed reluctantly for the door, three boys trudging along behind her, one of whom may have been softly humming Trauervorspiel und Trauermarsch.
When they touched base with the librarian later, he soundly disapproved of the idea of splitting up the group. Said something about “safety in numbers” and “teenage arrogance” and “you four idiots” and “infuriatingly inseparable except for the one time when I would prefer you to stick together.” Most of this diatribe was muttered under his breath as he pinched the bridge of his nose and ignored the whining protests of the kids.
In any case, they agreed to stay together that night. They made no promises about any other nights. They had been doing this nearly every night for about a month now and, being teenagers, they were fairly sure they knew everything there was to know and didn’t need any sort of guidance.
It was barely nine o’clock in the evening when Crowley ran into the kids. It wasn’t his usual style to come around so early, or to come around two nights in a row. They presumed it was just because the early twilight hours didn’t really vibe with his mysterious, brooding aura, and neither did sticking to a predictable schedule.
He found them messing around in one of the grassier areas of the cemetery, the newly purchased land where people reserved plots for their entire family years in advance. Brian and Pepper were playing the vampires while Adam and Wensleydale tried to slay them. Crowley watched from the shadows for a few minutes, amused by their games, but he knew that if he could sneak up on them, another vampire could do it just as easily.
“Boo,” he drawled, waving his hands in a pantomime of horror.
Brian wheeled around on him, instantly prepared to fight, and then relaxed when he saw who it was. “You can’t just say hello?”
Crowley shook his head. “No, sir,” he said matter-of-factly, “I’ve got to keep you lot on your toes, haven’t I?”
“Have you?” Wensleydale put his hands on his hips and narrowed his eyes at the man. “I mean, why? Who are you to worry about our toes?”
“I’m just here to help out,” Crowley said defensively.
Pepper gave an indignant sniff. “Is it your job to help out?”
“Is it yours ?” Crowley looked meaningfully at the three with an eyebrow raised.
Pepper, Brian, and Wensleydale exchanged a glance and backed down, the teenage egoism seeping out of their pores. They were Adam’s friends — his best friends, his only friends — and it had never occurred to any of them that they didn’t have to be involved in his slayer business. Adam had told them about it immediately and without question, and they had risen to the opportunity in the same way. He hadn’t asked them to help. It was just an understanding that they all shared.
And now they shared a similar understanding, though not quite as strong, with Anthony, a near-stranger who had spent the past month popping in unexpectedly to help them kill creatures of the night.
They all looked to Adam.
“This place is a big yawn,” he said smoothly, “let’s try downtown.”
Downtown was more active, by any measure. In fact, the children were having trouble breathing, so a yawn might have been welcome at the moment. Currently, they were surrounded and outnumbered two-to-one by a nasty family of vampires that had seemed to come out of nowhere.
Adam and Crowley were holding their own well enough, and managed to take care of six of the vampires while Brian, Pepper, and Wensley fought back the other four. They killed one, making what would have been even odds, had they been immortal beings with superhuman abilities and not thirteen-year-old children. By the time Adam and Crowley turned to help the others, however, the situation had deteriorated somewhat.
Wensleydale was flat on his back on the ground, his glasses broken, his face bloody, struggling to keep at bay the vampire who held him down, her sharp nails digging into his skin. Brian was running out of steam as he exchanged blows with a pixie-like vampire who dodged and weaved and struck with easy precision. Pepper stood opposite a vampire three times her size, a tall, bulky man oozing smugness, with a stake poised in one hand and her other arm tucked protectively into her side.
Adam sprung into action, swiftly staking the one that had Wensley in her grips, while Crowley moved like a bullet to help Brian. Pepper and her tank-sized opponent seemed to be at a stalemate where she knew she couldn’t move fast enough to stake him, but he knew he was now heavily outnumbered. Pepper had only a vague sense that the others’ fighting had ceased, and she chose to stay focused rather than consider the worst possibility. The two stared at each other.
Then, without warning, the vampire was dust.
Crowley had creeped in behind him, moving so quickly and so quietly that even Adam, Brian, and Wensleydale didn’t notice, and driven a stake effortlessly into his heart. None of the kids had the energy, time, or skill set to work out how fast he must have been moving in order to reach her that fast, but it was somewhere around fifty miles per hour.
Pepper’s fingers twitched and she dropped the stake in her hand. The rest of her body remained frozen: her mouth agape, her eyes fixed on the void where the vampire had been just seconds earlier. The three boys looked nervously at her, then around at each other.
The danger having passed for the moment, Crowley took a slow step forward, cautious so as not to startle Pepper, who was already in shock. He stepped out into a pool of dim yellow light, showing his face. Only it wasn’t his face.
It was like his face, but distorted, as if someone had put his face in a car crusher. It was like his face, if he were a vampire.
The kids soaked in the sight of him. Crowley registered their expressions and realized immediately what had happened, desperately attempted to find words. He choked. His deep brown eyes, the one feature that remained ultimately the same, gave away all the genuine terror he was feeling.
Adam breathed the softest gasp, eyes wide.
Wensleydale covered his face to muffle his crying.
Brian whispered, “Whoa.”
Pepper tried to remember how to breathe.
Crowley turned and ran.
Chapter 4: in which the boys come face to face
Brian and Adam watched shamefully as Mr. Fell buzzed around his office liked an angry fly, opening drawers and cabinets to find something. Pepper and Wensleydale sat on the table against the far wall, shrinking into themselves with every second. Pepper’s broken wrist had been set and wrapped the previous night, the gashes on Wensleydale’s face cleaned and stitched up, and all four children checked over for any less obvious injuries, including concussion, before they were sent off with the terse promise of “We’ll talk tomorrow.” On any other day, Adam might have made a sarcastic comment about his watcher having a secret medical degree, but right now he felt that all sarcastic comments were pretty much off the table.
After what felt to the kids like hours of Mr. Fell’s glaring silence and refusing to look at them, he finally took a seat at his desk and turned to face them. He was furious, that much was clear, but his body sagged into the cushioning of the chair and his face collapsed, revealing the exhaustion and relief beneath his anger.
“I don’t know what to say to you,” he began. “You’ve made it quite clear that you don’t care for my judgment, nor for my authority, so I don’t know what I can say to make you understand how monumentally stupid you’ve been.”
“I’m sorry,” Adam said, then flinched when the watcher’s harsh gaze turned on him.
“You should be. This is your duty, Adam, your destiny, and you’ve allowed innocent people to get involved, to get hurt.”
“Wait, hold on a minute,” Pepper interjected, “if he’d been alone against ten vamps, he would’ve died!”
Mr. Fell didn’t skip a beat in snapping back. “Perhaps if all of you had enough sense not to befriend a vampire and keep it a secret from me, you wouldn’t have been in that situation at all.”
Pepper looked down at her shoes, pressed her lips together to avoid crying. Brian was employing a similar strategy, while beside him, Adam quietly seethed.
“We didn’t know he was a vampire,” Wensleydale said. “He was helping us.”
“He was a strange man whom you met in the middle of the night, claiming to be on your side, and you took him at his word and then lied to me about it.” The watcher removed his glasses and started to clean them on his shirt, shaking his head. “You’ve no idea how much danger you were in, how lucky you are that you weren’t hurt worse.”
Adam took a small step forward, his face a stone mask. “We all would have been hurt worse if Anthony hadn’t been there,” he said defiantly. “This isn’t his fault.”
“I don’t want to hear your defense of him,” Mr. Fell said sternly. “You’re not to patrol without me anymore, and if he shows up again, I will take care of it.”
“What do you mean, take care of it?”
“He is a vampire,” the watcher said. “The protocol is quite clear.”
The children looked at each other, horrified, and spoke over each other in a cacophony of indignant protests.
“You can’t –”
“But he’s –”
“Please let us –”
“No,” Mr. Fell’s voice resonated around the small room, forcing the kids to fall silent. “No arguments about this. You will not put yourselves in any more unnecessary danger. Is that understood?”
The four kids nodded somberly, exchanging another wary look. Mr. Fell turned away from them again to face his desk, a cue for them to leave, and they did.
Once they were outside the office, outside the library, and well down the hallway, Adam turned to his friends with a wild look in his eyes. He made eye contact with each of them individually, then jerked his head toward the exit. They all turned without hesitating and followed him out the door.
Skipping school was certainly not out of the ordinary for the children, but they tended to stay on the campus, so as to avoid being seen about town and found out. This time, however, Adam led them uptown.
“Where’re we going?” Brian piped up after several blocks of walking in comfortable silence.
Adam called over his shoulder without slowing his pace. “We’re going to talk to Anthony, obviously.”
Wensleydale caught Adam’s shoulder. “But wait, we can’t do that,” he protested, “didn’t you hear what Az said?”
“Yes, I heard him, of course I heard him,” Adam said. “And, see, I didn’t really want to go see Anthony before that, but now I’ve got to. At least give him a heads up that Az wants to kill him.”
Brian, Wensley, and Pepper looked at each other guiltily. They knew Adam was right, and they usually had no problem defying authority figures. But it had been less than 24 hours at this point since they stood face-to-face with their mysterious friend and discovered that he was a vampire, and two of them had been rather seriously injured in the process. So, naturally, they were a bit reluctant to go looking for the man that they’d been expressly forbidden to see.
They expressed this sentiment.
“Yeah, but come on,” Adam insisted. “He didn’t hurt anybody. He wouldn’t hurt any of us.” Adam took a deep breath and put a sympathetic hand on Pepper’s arm, because she was the closest. “If you don’t want to come, you don’t have to; I’m not gonna put you guys in danger against your will. But I have to do this.”
“Well, then,” Pepper said, “we’re coming with you.”
“Course we are,” Brian nodded. “Not about to let you have all the fun by yourself.”
They all looked to Wensleydale. “Yeah, yeah, I’m coming. By the way,” he added, turning back to Adam, “how do you even know where to find Anthony?”
Adam grinned. “Stole his wallet. First time we met him. Who do you think I am?”
“Okay, fair,” said Wensleydale. “Sorry for doubting you.”
When Crowley heard a knock at his door in the middle of a weekday, he expected it to be one of the sweet old ladies who lived in his building and liked to bring him casseroles because they thought he was lonely. Or possibly the authorities, although he couldn't imagine why, given how skilled he had become at staying off the radar of the police. What he saw instead was four children, none of whom seemed remotely scared of him, or angry at him, for that matter.
He closed the door in their faces and tried to pretend he didn’t hear the continued knocking. Then he tried to pretend he didn’t hear the hushed conversation. He found it very difficult, however, to pretend he didn’t hear Adam say, “Maybe I should just kick the door in.” It was then that Crowley decided he’d be better off not letting that happen. He opened the door to see Adam poised to kick, and thanked his lucky stars that the boy saw him standing there before he had a chance to follow through.
“Hi there, Anthony,” Adam chirped. “Care for a chat?”
Crowley blinked. “Er, not – not particularly, no.” He stood behind the door, only his head poking out. “Are you armed?”
“I’m always armed,” said Adam, “but I’m not gonna hurt you, stupid.”
The boy rolled his eyes and scoffed dramatically. “Can we come in?”
Crowley looked down at the four kids, their expectant gazes fixed on him. He knew better than to underestimate them because of their age, he’d seen them fight, but he also figured that if they were going to try something, he would prefer it happen when he had the home advantage. He opened the door all the way and gestured for them to enter.
“Right, so,” Adam began as he made himself comfortable on a couch which tried its damnedest to prevent anyone from making themselves comfortable. “I’ll let you go first.” The others joined him on the couch, and they all looked at Crowley as if the fact that he was still standing was on a level with growing a second head.
He sat in a large armchair facing them, an indecipherable look on his face. “I am so sorry,” he said miserably. “I shouldn’t have left you last night. I shouldn’t have run away. That was cowardly, and it put you lot in more danger, and it was unforgivable.”
“I forgive you,” said Adam. He looked at the others, who nodded their genuine agreement.
“No, er, didn’t you hear me?” Crowley cocked his head to the side, a deep wrinkle in his brow. “I said unforgivable. As in, impossible to forgive.”
“Well, yeah,” Adam replied, in the tone of someone explaining something to a child for the fifth time. “But I’m the chosen one. I do impossible things all the time. So I forgive you.”
Pepper snorted. “Adam’s being a cocky asshole,” she said to Crowley, “but we all forgive you, really.” Brian and Wensleydale murmured affirmatives to back her up.
“I left you,” Crowley repeated, still looking utterly lost. “You were hurt, and I ran away. You’re kids, and I was supposed to protect you, and I ran away. And you’re not mad about that?”
Adam thought for a long moment. “Sure, I could be upset about that, but we’re all okay now, aren’t we? And think about it this way: you’re a vampire, right?”
Crowley physically recoiled from the words being spoken aloud, shrinking back into the chair, but the children just looked at him, waiting for the redundant answer. “Yes,” he said meekly.
“So yeah, maybe we’re kids, but I’m also, you know, the vampire slayer,” Adam explained in cool, rational tones. “I’m thinking, you were probably right to run away, all things considered. I mean, you couldn’t have known I wasn’t gonna kill you, right?”
“I… I guess?” Crowley was having trouble processing so much logic and reason in one go. Logic and reason was not Crowley’s modus operandi. He tended to go more for gut feelings, which usually turned out to be fear or anger.
Adam nodded as if he had struck a particularly favorable deal. “Right then, there we are. All things forgiven. We’re thirteen, it would be a bit hypocritical of us to judge you for making a rash decision. Rash decisions are our bread and butter.” The other three nodded fervently again.
“Wait,” Crowley said, finally getting his bearings in the conversation, “you’re not afraid that I’ll hurt you?” He hesitated for a second, then added, “Or try to hurt you, I suppose, I’m not laboring under any delusions that you couldn’t dust me in half a second.”
Adam shook his head. “No.”
“I mean, if you were gonna hurt us,” Brian piped up, “wouldn’t you have done it already?”
Wensleydale nodded, “Exactly. If it’s some sort of long con to kill four kids, you’re doing a really bad job of it.”
“Plus,” Pepper pointed out, “you already said, we’d take you out before you could even think about it.”
“So I think we’re fine on that front,” said Adam. “I didn’t know good vamps could exist, but I’m not one to question evidence that’s right in front of me. Long as you keep behaving like an ally, we’ll keep treating you as one.”
“That’s very fair,” said Crowley.
The slayer took a deep breath and rubbed his eyes, willing away the beginnings of a headache. When he spoke again, it was with a tense, tight voice. “Which brings me to my next order of business.”
“What’s that, then?”
“You see, my watcher –”
“His name’s Az.”
“– Thank you, Brian. My watcher, he helped us last night, after… after. And we told him about what happened. Everything that happened. Only, he doesn’t know you like we do. So, essentially, he wants to kill you.”
Crowley huffed out a breath. “Wow, okay. That’s a big one. Can’t really blame him. But, er, thanks for the heads-up?”
“You’re welcome,” Adam said, still painfully businesslike. “I think, though, that he’ll change his mind, if he just meets you.”
“Yeah. So I think you should stop by sometime. We’ll introduce you.”
The three other children whipped their heads around to stare at Adam, incredulous. Wensleydale’s jaw dropped, Brian uttered a soft “what the fuck,” and Pepper hit Adam rather hard on the arm before starting in on him.
“Are you completely insane? Are you? He’ll die, Adam! He will! You’ll have that on your conscience!”
Despite the fact that his own life was on the line, Crowley couldn’t help but feel slightly amused at the children’s bickering. He also couldn’t help but feel that fiery, protective urge deep in his gut again. While Pepper and Adam argued in hushed tones, Crowley let out a soft sigh and closed his eyes, resigning himself to the simple fact that he would risk his life, risk anything, to keep these kids safe.
Then Crowley heard Adam whisper something along the lines of, “If Az tries anything, I mean, I can take him, right?” and that was the last straw for him.
“Stop,” he said firmly. “I’m not letting you fight your watcher for me.” He fixed a serious gaze on the slayer and spoke with slow, deliberate purpose. “You are a child. I have been keeping myself alive for longer than you can imagine. You need to stop worrying about me. You worry about you, I will worry about me. And I will worry about you as well. That’s how this goes.”
The kids all looked at Crowley, blinking in shock. It had been easy to forget that he was much older than them (even before they knew that he was much, much older than them), despite his constant need to remind them of the fact. He was just rather… pliable, the children thought. Always willing to help, not barking out orders. This was a solemn reminder of where they all stood in whatever kind of relationship this was.
“Uh. Sure. Okay.” Adam looked almost sheepish.
“I’ll handle it,” Crowley assured him.
Brian and Wensleydale spoke at the same time, frantic voices overlapping:
“Don’t hurt him!”
“You can’t hurt Az!”
Crowley gave them a slightly patronizing look. “Obviously I’m not going to hurt the man. Please, don’t worry about it. I’m confident I can manage this.”
“Alright,” said Adam, who was beginning to brighten up again. “Sounds good to me. Just, you let us know if you need any help, okay?”
Crowley breathed a laugh, imperceptible to the children. “Sure. Will do, kid.”
Adam was already standing and making his way to the door, and the others followed suit. “We’re just gonna get going, then,” the slayer said casually, “because we’ve got classes to get to, and whatnot. So. See you later, I guess.”
“See you later,” Crowley said, and he smiled at the children and closed the door behind them.
Adam furrowed his brow and turned to his friends. “Grown-ups are so weird,” he said, sounding tired, and then he led them back to the school.
Crowley was rather proud of the plan he’d concocted to sort out this whole business. He should not have been proud of it, as, all things considered, it was a terrible plan. In fact, it was hardly a plan at all. It consisted of three steps:
- Approach the watcher slowly and kindly.
- Explain yourself calmly and rationally.
- Somehow, this will work.
Unsurprisingly, this did not work.
He gave the watcher a few days to cool off, maybe let some of the murderous intent die down a little bit, before deciding to pop into the library for a visit. It was after school hours, after dark, and he made sure that Adam and his friends were home before he went to talk to the man. Crowley figured the watcher would be preparing for tonight’s patrol while the kids ate dinner and finished their homework, or complained about dinner and blew off their homework, as the case may be, and he was correct. This estimation was the first and only part of the process that went according to his plan.
Crowley strolled into the library as casually as he could manage, wearing the least threatening outfit he could procure from his limited wardrobe (a black pullover sweater and dark blue jeans, plus his lowest-heeled combat boots). He didn’t really know why, but he’d brushed his hair and put on cologne as well. Trying to prove to this stuffy librarian that he was a normal, trustworthy guy, which he wasn’t. That is, he wasn’t normal, not by a long shot.
The librarian was seated at the reference desk – not in his office, as Crowley had expected – and he was poring over four different books open in front of him. Crowley cleared his throat to draw his attention, and he looked up, irritation already written plain on his face.
“Er, hi,” Crowley said, taking a small step forward. The librarian stood to level with him, but stayed behind the desk. “I was hoping we might be able to talk.”
“I am quite busy,” the man said pointedly. “May I ask who you are?”
“I’m…” Crowley hesitated, chewing on the inside of his cheek. He was just realizing that he had no idea what the watcher knew about him, whether he could risk saying his name. He certainly didn’t fancy getting staked this early in the conversation. Then again, there wasn’t a way to go about this without letting the man know who he was at some point. “I’m a friend of Adam’s,” he said at length, “and I presume you are, as well.”
The watcher took a step back, reaching behind him to grab something, and Crowley only saw a flash of it, but it looked sharp. To his credit, the man did not immediately attack him. “Yes, well, the boy makes friends easily.”
“So there’s common ground there, right? Both friends with Adam. Both want him safe, right?”
“I do, certainly,” was the terse reply.
“We both do,” Crowley insisted. “We both do.” He paused, hoping the words would sink in properly before he continued. “So by all means, keep yourself armed if it makes you feel better, but I would really appreciate it very much if you didn’t try to kill me just yet.”
The watcher surveyed him silently, clutching his stake white-knuckled at his side. Crowley looked back at him, desperately overthinking how honest his face looked at the moment, positive he could hear his own nonexistent heartbeat. Crowley did not have a perfect sense of the passage of time, but he would have sworn the man stared at him for at least an hour before his squared shoulders relaxed, his expression softened somewhat, and he took a seat behind the desk.
“Very well,” the librarian said, gesturing to the chair across from him with one hand, while the other still prominently displayed his weapon. “What have you got to say?”
Crowley sat, smiling in what he hoped was a pleasant manner. “First of all,” he said airily, “what the hell kind of a name is Az?”
The watcher actually cracked a smile at that, and Crowley assured himself internally that his stomach did a little flip only because he was pleased with the direction of the conversation. It was relief, because he was smiling instead of stabbing. “It’s not my name,” he explained patiently, “it’s my initials. A.Z. Fell. The children call me that because they’re morally opposed to showing respect in any old-fashioned sense of the term.” His smile widened and his eyes gained a mischievous spark, which Crowley thought suited him well. “Anyway, Anthony isn’t a name you’d expect of a serious vampire.”
“Most people call me Crowley.”
“Alright, then,” said the watcher. “Crowley. My name is Asaph.”
“Asaph.” Crowley tasted the name on his tongue, an old name, a solid name. He smiled. “It is so very nice to meet you.”
Chapter 5: in which a détente is reached
Crowley was trying not to sulk too hard as he returned to his flat after his meeting with the watcher. It could have been much, much worse, he told himself, and this was a good starting point. He wasn’t dead, at least not any more than he had been already, nor was he at the top of the watcher’s hit list. Although, he thought, he certainly wasn’t off the list entirely.
The watcher – Asaph, Crowley reminded himself, unable to get around the strange feeling of calling the man by his first name – was not a huge worry. He had been decent and polite for the duration of their conversation, even as he held his stake close and made sure Crowley noticed. Crowley understood the man’s point of view, he really did, but Asaph did not understand his, and there was the issue.
He had said something along the lines of How can you expect me to trust you, when you lied this whole time about being a vampire? and Crowley had responded How d’you think you’d have reacted, if I’d come out of the gate with that one? and he had been unable to answer that question. Crowley got the impression that this was a man who did not like to be proven wrong.
But it wasn’t a total loss. Asaph Fell was not an entirely unreasonable man, and he agreed to give Crowley a chance to prove himself, which was something. Crowley wanted to help, it was what he did, and the sooner the watcher believed that, the sooner he could get back to seriously helping. For now, though, he’d been forbidden from speaking to the children or hanging around them. He would have laughed at the prospect of a single human man being able to forbid him from doing anything, but something about Asaph made Crowley want to do what he asked. If he needed to cooperate to gain his trust, then he would stick to the shadows for a while.
Asaph was not happy about Crowley sticking to the shadows, even, would have preferred he stayed out of the picture altogether, but Crowley was determined enough. It took several minutes of heated negotiation, but he was able to convince Asaph that it would be better to have the extra pair of eyes, to have backup in case anything went wrong. The watcher assured him that he would be out on patrol with the children every night, and any funny business would not be tolerated, and Crowley laughed at him for saying funny business, and Asaph laughed, too, although he was still tense.
It could have gone worse, Crowley reminded himself once more. He didn’t want to admit that he was upset about not being able to see the kids, but there was no sense in lying to himself. He liked looking out for them, he liked teaching them new things, he liked being around them, and he wanted to protect them. But there was something else, something nagging at him, and it took several minutes of hard thought before he was able to put his finger on it.
It was the fact that Asaph didn’t like him. Crowley had never considered himself the kind of man who was desperate for approval, had always lived by his own rules, and damn the critics and damn the consequences. But this man, this watcher, had such a scalding gaze that Crowley felt the ache of it in his soul. It was stupid, he knew it was stupid, and he scolded himself for being so stupid, but that didn’t change his burning desire to win over Asaph, to convince him that trusting him was the right decision. And even as he felt childish and shameful about that desire, he also knew without a doubt that he was going to achieve it.
Crowley was only at his flat long enough to change his clothes, putting on something that was better suited to lurking around at night, and much better suited to his personality. He used his well-honed skills to quickly find the children and the watcher out on their patrol, but this time he hung back, stayed where they couldn’t see him, and watched for trouble. He was prepared to jump in if they needed his help, but the night passed without incident as he hovered just far enough away that even with his supernatural hearing, he couldn’t quite catch their conversation. It was painful, being so close and unable to help, and worse, unable to hear if they were talking about him or not.
When the patrol ended, the watcher got in his car and left the children to find their own way home, at their request. Crowley laughed at this thoughtless mistake, the man’s misplaced trust in four teenagers. He stuck around and trailed them for another hour, still keeping out of their sight, until they were all safe in their homes, before finally returning to his flat for the night.
It was not ideal, he thought as he collapsed on his sofa, but it would work.
Asaph Fell was a reasonably intelligent man, and so he decided to save the conversation about Crowley for the next day. It wouldn’t do to get the children all excited so late at night, was the lame excuse he told himself. Really, he didn’t want to have to talk to the kids about the matter while he knew the vampire was close; he couldn’t be sure what he might say, and he couldn’t be sure whether Crowley was listening.
When he did talk to them about it, he used a tactical approach which he dubbed not technically lying. This strategy involved a series of stretched truths and half-truths in order to appease the children's uncanny fondness for the vampire without feeding into it too much.
“The vampire is no longer a threat,” he began, and quickly saw in their shocked and horrified faces that this was the wrong phrasing. “I mean,” he added quickly, “I no longer consider him a threat. I mean I won't be trying to get rid of him.”
Adam beamed. “You're gonna let him live?”
“Yes,” Asaph nodded, “until he gives me a reason not to.”
Whatever he had expected to come from this, being tackled by four children in a suffocating hug was definitely not it. Nevertheless, he smiled, pleased that they were pleased. When they released their hold on him, he spoke again.
“However,” he said carefully, “you are not to get yourselves involved with him. He's agreed to stay away from you, and I need you to do the same.” A chorus of whines and protests arose from the kids, and he waited for them to stop before trying to explain himself. “He is a vampire, and that makes him dangerous. I simply cannot allow that risk.”
Pepper scoffed and turned her nose up. “We hung around him for ages without him causing any trouble,” she said, in the tone of a child who has just recently learned that grown-ups are not always right. “Why do you get to say he's dangerous, all of a sudden?”
“He's been dangerous the entire time,” the watcher explained patiently. “The fact that nothing too bad has happened yet doesn't mean we should tempt fate.”
Brian mumbled something under his breath about fate and the literal vampire slayer, and the other three nodded, apparently having understood every word.
“Yeah, exactly,” Adam agreed. “Doesn't make any sense to talk about tempting fate; isn't that just what we do?”
Asaph removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose with a long-suffering sigh. “What we do,” he said pointedly, “is fight the forces of evil. As this particular force has shown himself thus far to be less than evil, it would be needlessly cruel to slay him, but it would also be irresponsible to continue associating with him. Why give him a chance to change his mind?”
“He won’t,” objected Wensleydale.
“You don’t know that.”
“You don’t know him,” Adam insisted, his tone taking on a slight whine, a hint of petulance.
The watcher closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, replacing his glasses on his face. He admired the children’s devotion, their loyalty, their tenacity. He also would have appreciated if they could have turned it off, sometimes, and listened to him, but he knew that was a far-fetched fantasy. Still, he could try, because he had lunch plans and he needed this conversation to come to an end. “This is not up for discussion,” he said, as firmly as he could manage. “I have made allowances for you, but I will not be swayed on this.” Seeing the children were unconvinced, he acted without thinking on a small impulse of wrath and muttered, “You’re lucky I’ve decided not to kill him.”
Adam blinked back a few hot tears, sending a shot of guilt straight to the base of Asaph’s spine, and stormed out of the library before he could say anything else. The others followed, leaving the watcher with his thoughts. His thoughts were scattered, vacillating between shame and ire and pride and concern and a thousand other things. He was right, he knew it in his heart, but he didn’t enjoy upsetting the kids, and he didn’t much like the idea of them being upset with him, the potential of what they might get into.
He heaved a mighty sigh and tabled those thoughts as the door to his office swung open.
“You know, love, you could knock,” he said in a voice that was tired and fond at the same time.
The woman took the comfortable chair from Asaph’s desk and dragged it across the room, setting down a bag of carryout before flopping back in the chair and throwing her feet up on the table. “And why would I do that, darling?” she said innocently, staring at him as if he’d asked her to shine his shoes.
“It is the done thing,” Asaph replied, taking a seat across from her.
She grinned, a flash of teeth, a crinkle by her eyes, and pushed a container of lo mein into his hands. “Yeah, done,” she said flippantly, “as in, over. As in, nobody does that, especially not I, the most important person in your life.”
“Don’t get a big head, Anathema, please.” He leaned back in his chair, returning her smile with ease.
“Why not? I think I’d look good with a big head.”
“You’d look good in anything, my dear, but I do like your head the way it is.”
“You flatter me,” Anathema said, “and it’s going to go straight to my head, my already-giant, gorgeous head.” She swiped a lock of hair from her face, fluttering her eyelashes dramatically. “Anyway, it won’t save you from your solemn duty. You must tell me what’s been going on in your life this week.”
Asaph laughed and rolled his eyes. Anathema Device was a brilliant friend, he had found, because she had a magical way of making everything sound fun, even the most mundane daily tasks. He fondly remembered the time she had spent hours with him poring over maps for a research project in grad school, how she had turned it into a positively baffling drinking game, and still helped him complete his assignment on time. He wondered how she might be able to put a spin on his current predicament, if he could tell her the whole truth about it.
“Those kids I’ve been working with are a nightmare,” he sighed.
“Right, your mentoring thing, very noble,” she said through a mouthful of rice. “Those four are a chore and a half sometimes; I’ve had to sit them on opposite corners of the classroom, and they still manage to stir things up.”
Nodding thoughtfully, the librarian attempted to find a way to vent about the situation with careful phrasing. “Yes,” he said slowly, “they certainly are a group of characters. Let’s just say they… don’t particularly appreciate being mentored.”
“Teenagers think they know everything,” Anathema said, aiming for reassuring. “They’ll come around, probably. Have you tried showing them your high school yearbook photos?”
“Why on earth would I do that?”
“You see, kids,” she said, imitating Asaph’s accent and lowering her voice, “it is clear from this photographic evidence that I, too, have known the searing pain of pubescent angst. Learn from my mistakes: smoke more weed while you’re still young, because if you wait, –” she was cut off by a sharp kick to her shin under the table.
Asaph smiled apologetically at her before speaking. “Okay, I get it,” he said, “I think. Now, tell me about this woman you’ve been seeing? The one with the odd name?”
“It’s not odd,” said Anathema, almost defensively, “not any more than yours. Or mine, for that matter. Her name is Newt.”
“Like the amphibian?”
“Like Newton,” Anathema corrected. “She named herself after Isaac Newton. I think it’s cute, she’s into all this science and math stuff, but she’s total rubbish at it.” She beamed as she spoke, detailing a movie date and a tentative front-porch kiss, and Asaph listened, happy that she was happy.
“What about you?” she asked eventually, cocking her head to the side.
He blinked at her in surprise. “What about me?”
Anathema shot him a look that she gave him quite often, one that said you are so stupid, for a smart person, and sighed. “Have you met anyone lately? You’ve been single for so long, it’s depressing.”
“Erm – no, no, I haven’t met anyone,” Asaph said quickly.
“Oh, what’s his name?”
“He doesn’t have a name,” he snapped.
“What does he look like?”
“There’s no he, Anathema, I – there isn’t.”
Anathema snorted. She was teasing, he knew, but he couldn’t help feeling that she had seen something in him, that she read his stammering protests for what they were. He didn’t know what they were, really, except for stammering protests, but he knew that a face had sprung to his mind when she asked the question. And he knew he did not want that face in his mind, as nice a face as it may have been.
He shook off the feeling and dove into his lunch, attempting to avoid saying anything else. She didn’t bring it up again.
Chapter 6: in which the librarian is a hypocrite
Asaph Fell had always been a fan of silence. He didn't listen to music in the car; he didn't open the windows in the spring to hear the birds; he usually couldn’t get any work done unless he was completely alone. He preferred to have entire buildings to himself, when he could manage it, to minimize the chances of drifting sounds or unannounced visitors, so his habit as of late had been to return back to the school after patrolling.
Alone in the big turn-of-the-century structure, where the only noises were creaking pipes and groaning walls, he could get his research done, or read for pleasure, or simply sit and breathe before going home. “Home” was a generous descriptor for the cramped apartment he occupied when he was asleep. His spacious library, a living being on its own, was much more comfortable, made him feel much more at home.
His spacious library also had a tendency to echo if, for instance, a lengthy, comfortable, solitary silence was broken by one rather presumptuous visitor.
“I knew I'd find you here,” a voice crowed, bouncing off the walls. “Actually,” Crowley added as he stepped into Asaph's line of sight, “I followed you here, but still. You're predictable.”
After the librarian caught his breath, his heart pounding from being startled abruptly out of his peaceful thoughts, he stood to face the vampire. “You cannot follow me,” he stated, drawing on all the resolute righteousness he could muster.
“But I can,” Crowley pointed out, “and I did.” He ran a hand through his hair in a faux-casual gesture, fixing the librarian with an odd gaze. “So, what are we going to do about it now?”
Asaph scowled at him nearly hard enough to burn his skin. Crowley could have sworn he physically felt the sensation of his ego shrinking, just from the look he was receiving. “We are going to do nothing,” Asaph said pointedly. “Please leave.”
“Aw, come on,” Crowley whined with an exaggerated pout. “It's cold out there.”
“No, it isn’t,” the librarian muttered, shooting a furtive glance at the window. “Why are you here?”
Crowley whistled low under his breath. “Okay, not in a joking mood, got it.” He watched, amused, as Asaph set about organizing piles of books and staunchly avoiding looking up at him. “I want to talk about the kids.”
“They’re fine,” Asaph replied, quickly resorting to defensive and indignant tones. He frowned deeply at the look on the vampire’s face. “I was with them all evening.”
Giving the librarian a smug grin, Crowley leaned over in front of him, effectively blocking the path of his work. Asaph blinked several times, vaguely hoping that it would make the other man disappear, then huffed out a breath. “Fine,” he snapped, gesturing to the chair across from him, although Crowley was already moving to sit. “What about the kids?”
“It’s just…” Crowley steepled his fingers, pressed his lips together, trying to work out what to say. “You can’t just always believe that they’re going to do what they say they’re doing,” he said, as diplomatically as possible.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Asaph narrowed his eyes, scrutinizing the vampire, searching for something in his body language.
Crowley muttered something under his breath about becoming a narc, then took a deep, unnecessary inhale. “They’re teenagers, for fuck’s sake,” he said, then paused and tried his best to filter the condescension out of his tone. “They don’t just watch you drive off after a patrol and then dutifully march home, is what I’m saying.”
“Then what do they do?”
“Typical teenager stuff, nothing bad,” Crowley reassured him. “I just figured I should tell you, since… since you’re so protective of them. I thought you would want to know that they’re out late, by themselves, every night, in spite of your best efforts.”
Eyeing him with increasing suspicion, Asaph crossed his arms in front of his chest, leaned back just slightly in his chair, and spoke sharply. “Why are you telling me this?”
Crowley’s face, which had hitherto been a nearly consistent display of his amusement at the librarian’s attitude, crumpled for a moment before he rearranged his features into a smooth mask. “Why wouldn’t I?” he asked, his matter-of-fact tone belying his true confusion. “I want you to trust me. And I want them to be safe.”
“Hmm,” the librarian grunted in disbelief.
“I do,” Crowley insisted, becoming defensive to cover the fact that he was slightly hurt. “I could just as easily have left you alone with your blissful ignorance. Could have contacted Adam behind your back, but I didn't. I made sure they got home safe, and then I came straight here. I'm trying, here.”
“Hold on,” Asaph said abruptly, wrinkling his brow. “If you stayed until they went home, how could you have followed me here?”
Crowley cleared his throat and looked at the floor. “Ah, well,” he said sheepishly, “I actually, er, didn't so much follow you here as follow your… scent.”
Crowley nodded his head.
Asaph gave a slow nod in response. “Okay,” he said, speaking slow and quiet, “you definitely cannot do that.”
“I didn't want to,” the vampire protested. “I just needed to talk to you, and it was convenient.”
Looking up again, Crowley saw the withering glare on the librarian's face and winced slightly. Silence stretched on between them as Asaph studied him, the gears turning in his head, trying to make a decision regarding how to feel and how to proceed. After a short time, he opted to pick his battles, and the battle that was most important to him, at this moment, was to be left alone.
He heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Was there something else you needed, or did you simply come here to tell me how bad I am at my job?”
Crowley pretended to think it over for a moment, rubbing his chin. “No, it was just that,” he replied, the smile beginning to spread across his face once more.
“Then by all means,” the librarian said with false cheer to match the vampire's glee, “please feel free to leave.”
“Oh, wait,” Crowley said, brightening suddenly. “I just remembered something I wanted to ask you.”
Asaph rolled his eyes. “What?”
“Can I have your number?”
“What?” The librarian balked, his mouth agape, his face rapidly turning a deep shade of red.
“I said,” Crowley murmured, leaning across the desk, “can I have your number?”
Asaph sputtered and stammered, growing more frustrated as he realized that Crowley was very clearly trying to contain a laugh. “That's just – that is highly inappropriate,” the librarian protested, fixing a scowl on his face.
Crowley let out a small giggle, which he valiantly tried to disguise as a cough, and then put a hand over Asaph's where it rested on the desk. The librarian yanked his hand away immediately, as if he had been burned, but Crowley continued smiling, increasingly amused by the other man's reactions.
“Calm down,” the vampire said. “I just mean it would make communication easier, for the sake of the children. So I don't have to sniff you out and catch you by surprise all the time.”
Asaph narrowed his eyes and huffed a breath out. “You could have said so,” he grumbled, reaching for a pen and scribbling a phone number on a stray piece of paper. “That’s my office phone, mind. Just so you can warn me before you pop up out of thin air.”
“Much obliged,” said Crowley as he pushed a sticky note closer to the librarian’s hand. “That’s my cell number. So you can call or text any time, for any reason.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” Asaph said, pointedly looking between Crowley and the door.
Crowley stood to leave, fixing a cryptic gaze on the librarian. “I don’t breathe,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Anyway, sorry for the… sorry to have bothered you. See you around.”
Asaph did not reply, but sat in silence and watched the vampire walk away, leaving through the main doors of the library rather than the window through which he had entered. When he was sure Crowley was gone, the librarian shook himself out of the sense of whiplash that had overtaken him and finished stacking his books into the organized piles he needed. It wasn’t until he was preparing to leave for the night, to go back to his apartment, that his eye caught on the bright pink sticky note on his desk, and he leaned in to actually read it. It had a phone number, of course, but there was also a short message in slanted, scrawling letters:
anthony j crowley – best to call late at night ;-) (i don’t bite)
Making a noise of mixed exasperation and disgust at the cheesy joke, Asaph shoved the note into his jacket pocket on the way out the door.
The next day, the librarian faced a dilemma. He was struggling with the knowledge that the kids had lied and snuck around behind his back, not because he was hurt, or even all that surprised, but because he could not bring it up to them without admitting that he had lied and snuck around a bit, as well.
Technically, he thought, none of them had actually told a lie. He had forbidden the children from contacting Crowley, hadn’t said anything about his own interactions with the man, but he felt it was implied. Just as it was implied, when he said goodnight and left at the end of a patrol, that the children would go home immediately. Either way, he couldn’t be upset with them without admitting that he had just as much reason to feel guilty.
What he chose, instead, was to come up with a way to mitigate the problem without letting on to the children that he knew there was a problem. This turned out to be more difficult than he had anticipated. He settled eventually on the idea that he should probably be acquainted with – and accountable to – their parents, if they were going to be out late with him more often than not.
“My dad doesn’t care where I go, really,” Wensleydale said with a shrug, “but you can talk to him, I guess.”
Adam pointed out that his parents were fully in the know about the whole slayer business, and they knew where he was and who he was with every night. He offered to facilitate the exchanging of contact information, and possibly set up a time for them to meet his watcher. Asaph felt that this was reasonable.
Brian was not as amiable to the idea. “My parents will kill me,” he said in a tone which was rapidly approaching panic. “They think I’ve been going to a study group. They’ll kill me.”
“That’s what I told my mom, too,” Pepper said, just as concerned. “What do you want us to do, just tell them we’ve been lying?”
The watcher thought about this for a few minutes. “I think,” he said with forced calm, “that it may not be necessary to hold you all to the complete truth. Perhaps a credible, uniform cover story would be best.”
Pepper and Brian visibly relaxed every tense muscle in their bodies. Together, the five of them worked out the story – that they were attending a study group with the school librarian, that sometimes their meetings went late, that they were safe and in good hands at all times. It felt like a necessary evil, the easiest way to keep everyone on the same page.
“Besides,” Asaph said after they had all agreed to the plan, “we’ve got a good amount of rigorous research to do in the upcoming weeks. No parent will complain about that.”
“Research?” Adam wrinkled his nose. “Why research?”
The watcher checked his calendar, lifted the book that was in his hand, and flipped to a certain page, before turning the book so the kids could see. They let out a collective gasp of horror and shock, and began babbling over one another in their excitement. Asaph gave them a minute to quiet down, to properly read over the prophecy he’d set in front of them, before he spoke, quiet but strong.
“It’s the end of the world.”
Chapter 7: in which armageddon homework is done
“Hey, Az?” Brian looked up from the book he’d been poring over for fifty minutes and watched as the librarian made his way over to him. “I have to tell you something.”
“Yes, what is it?” Asaph ran a hand through his already disheveled hair, leaning in to keep the conversation quiet enough that the other kids could continue working. When he spoke, he had a near supernatural ability to sound as if he was seething just under the surface of his skin and about to pass out from exhaustion at the same time. This talent was acquired through many years of practice, the practice being that he was almost always seething just under the surface of his skin and about to pass out from exhaustion at the same time.
Brian, on the other hand, had an equally uncanny ability to ignore all vocal signs, body language, and social cues that might tell him when it was inappropriate to say something. He looked the librarian in the eyes and proclaimed, in his naturally loud speaking voice, “This fucking blows.”
Straightening up to his full height again, Asaph scowled at Brian while the others tried to hide their laughter. “I don’t need to remind any of you what’s at stake here,” he said sharply, looking around to give all of them the same withering stare, “or how little time we have. It’s not fun. It’s necessary.”
Adam let out a frustrated groan and buried his face in his hands. “Why can’t it be both, for once?”
Softening at the sight of the children’s sagging shoulders and drooping eyelids, the librarian checked his watch. It was nearly midnight. “Alright,” he said with a long-suffering sigh. “Alright, let’s call it a night, I’ll drive you home. I can look over your notes by myself. See if I can make any sense of it whatsoever.”
The four teenagers relaxed their tense muscles in a synchronized breath of relief, gathering up their notes and books into neat piles, dividing up the small amount of food left over from the delivery they had ordered. They didn't speak much in the car, all completely drained from the long day, which was just the latest in a string of long days that had been going for three weeks, now. Every free moment of every day had been spent scouring the watcher's vast collection of dusty books full of summoning rituals and doomsday prophecies. They read, they took notes, they cross-referenced, they complained, they ordered pizza, they read some more. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Watching over the four of them, as was his job description, Asaph felt no small amount of guilt over the fact that they were saving the world when they should have been going to the mall or learning to skateboard. Their childhoods were quickly slipping into adolescence, and they weren't around to see it happen. But, he thought, it was better to make sure they had a world to grow up in, and worry about the rest later. There was no alternative.
There was also the fact that it was – at least for Adam – built into the core of his being. He was destined to be the slayer; he couldn’t opt out of it, even if he wanted to. Brian and Pepper and Wensley had a choice, but they would never abandon their friend to handle the burden by himself, it just wasn’t who they were. They were good people. Even so young as they were, it was impossible not to notice that they were kind, clever, compassionate, creative, and a whole heap of other adjectives.
It hurt Asaph’s heart to see them bearing the load of the fate of humanity on their tiny teenage shoulders, and as he dropped them off one by one, he did what little he could to convey the sentiment to them. This consisted largely of awkward pats on the back and a stumbling jigsaw of phrases like “good work” and “thank you” and “it’s getting there,” that couldn’t quite seem to form any sentences, but were nonetheless accepted as the gesture that the librarian had intended.
Once he was alone again, Asaph returned to the library, fighting the sinking dread in the pit of his stomach as he thought about the prophecy and the children and the world. He attempted to quash the feeling in the only way he knew how, by making himself some tea, and then settled in to decipher the notes the kids had taken that day. He was about twenty minutes into this process, and, he thought, making some rather good progress, when he heard the phone ringing in his office. It was difficult to ignore, despite being on the other side of a closed door, but he tried anyway, focusing on his work. Eventually, the phone stopped ringing, and he enjoyed five seconds of blissful silence before it started up again, possibly even louder.
"I'm not going to answer it," he promised, deliberately not raising his voice. "I'm busy."
He barely heard the soft thud of feet on the carpet behind him, like a cat jumping from a shelf. Turning his head just slightly, he watched Crowley shove his mobile back into the pocket of his impossibly tight pants, walking in his direction. He was relieved to see the vampire, and he told himself it was only because this vampire was a better alternative than any other vampire.
"Why give me your number, if you won't pick up the phone?" Crowley asked, but he was smiling, his tone breezy and playful, rather than accusatory.
The librarian huffed out a breath and spoke with a pleasant smile, imitating Crowley’s casual demeanor. "Why bother calling, if you're already here?"
"Courtesy,” Crowley said, as if it were obvious.
Asaph glared pointedly at him. "It would be courteous of you to go away."
Crowley ignored the jab and took the seat next to Asaph, leaning in to read over his shoulder. "What do we have? Anything helpful?"
The librarian looked at him, narrowing his eyes, and then back down at the pages in front of him. He said nothing, but breathed out a soft, bitter laugh as he continued his work, pretending Crowley wasn't there. It was difficult, not least because he could feel the vampire’s gaze boring into him as he determinedly kept his own eyes down.
"I’m not leaving," Crowley said after a short time. When he received no response, he reached out and stilled Asaph's hand with his own, effectively interrupting the turning of a page, and waited for him to look up, to see the open sincerity written on his face. “This is big, I know it is, and the only way it ends well is if we work together. If you’re too proud to admit that, to accept my help, then… we’re in big trouble.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” the librarian snapped, “but I do believe that slayers have been saving the world for quite some time, without any help from vampires.”
“You’re wrong.” Crowley’s voice was hard, his jaw tight, as he slowly retracted his hand and crossed his arms. Sitting back to see Asaph’s bewildered look, he rolled his eyes. “I’ve been around a long time,” he said. “You think this is the first time I’ve gotten involved?”
Asaph moved through his shock and puzzlement quickly, latching onto a secondary thought, and looked up with a furrowed brow. “That’s interesting, actually. Interesting that you bring that up, because it just so happens that I know nothing about you or your past. How old are you, even?”
“Seven hundred-ish,” the vampire answered without missing a beat.
Crowley shrugged. “Seven hundred and two, maybe? It really stops mattering after a while.” He watched as the librarian hummed and nodded thoughtfully. “Listen, I’m all for us getting to know each other,” he continued, speaking slowly and relishing the pink flush that spread on Asaph’s face, “but maybe we should save social hour for after the world is saved?”
Asaph cleared his throat awkwardly, straightening some papers in front of him as an excuse to look away from the vampire’s face. “Yes, quite,” he muttered. “Erm, the prophecies are… well, they’re fairly clear, that’s one upside.”
“I’m guessing they don’t clearly state that it was all a joke and the apocalypse isn’t actually coming at all?”
“No such luck,” Asaph sighed as he slid a page of his own notes over for Crowley to read.
- summons creatures from underground - moles? worms? (Malcolm 241)
- unnaturally low temperatures (Luther 56; Marquez 157)
- ritual requires supplies (see Malcolm 469) and specific location - unknown (Preston 310)
- preliminary ritual disarms slayer - educated opponent (Luther 548)
- human ritual, not demonic or otherworldly in origin (likely a religious sect? political faction?) (Preston 483)
- ritual is only complete when slayer is dead (Marquez 277)
- to stop ritual - ???
Crowley read it. He sucked in a deep breath. Then he read it again. “Okay, that’s… bad,” he said lamely. “Really bad.”
“You know, I was thinking the same thing,” Asaph replied with a practiced lack of emotion.
“Is it… I mean…” Crowley frowned deeply, looked down at the words on the page once more, then back up at the librarian’s face. “How are the kids handling this?”
Asaph shifted guiltily in his seat, chewing on his lower lip, avoiding eye contact. “Well, I, er. Haven’t necessarily… told them, yet, about that part.”
Crowley gestured to the stacks of hastily-written notes on the table. “They’ve been doing the research," he said, starting to develop a headache for the first time in centuries, "how could they not know?”
“They’re largely just copying things down,” the librarian explained, and he sounded almost sheepish about it. “They hardly know what it means. Most of it isn’t even in English.”
Crowley made a small noise of understanding, nodding his head, and then dropped his head unceremoniously, placing his chin in his hands. With his face screwed up in deep thought, his mind completely occupied, he didn't notice the way Asaph mirrored his body language. The librarian propped his elbows on the table, holding his head in his hands, and burrowed into his own mind to search for answers. The two sat in silence, figuring and worrying internally, for several long minutes.
Eventually, Crowley lifted his head like a statue come to life and turned slowly to face the librarian. “We can’t tell them," he muttered, with all the firm determination of one who has calculated the lesser of many evils and is not happy with the results.
“We certainly can’t tell Adam," Asaph agreed quietly.
“And we can’t tell the others," Crowley explained patiently, "because they’ll tell Adam.”
Asaph gave a small, sad nod of his head. “So we can’t tell them.”
“What do we do, then?”
“We fix it ourselves," the librarian responded matter-of-factly, "and keep the children as far away from it as possible.”
Crowley's face lit up at the suggestion. “You would trust me with that?”
“It seems I don’t have a choice," Asaph grumbled, already somewhat regretting this.
“Alright, then, let’s save the world." Crowley grinned disarmingly at him, so innocently, genuinely thrilled that it was contagious. "We’ll make a good team.”
Rolling his eyes, Asaph returned his attention to the work in front of him, muttering a disgruntled response. “We are not a team.”
“Explain to me how this does not constitute teamwork," Crowley challenged him.
“It’s not teamwork," the librarian replied, "because we’re not a team.”
“What are we, then?” Crowley pushed.
Asaph closed his eyes and took a deep breath to center himself. “We are… begrudgingly cooperative allies.”
“I’m not begrudging anything," Crowley protested. "You’re begrudging, I’m not begrudging.”
"Fine," Asaph snapped, tired of the argument. Nevertheless, he thought for a moment, then continued, “I am begrudgingly cooperative, and you are infuriatingly enthusiastic.”
“I like that. Begrudgingly Cooperative and Infuriatingly Enthusiastic." Crowley nudged the librarian's arm gently with his own, biting back a childish snicker. "Good team name.”
“Shut up, Crowley." Asaph slid a stack of books over to the vampire, keeping his eyes intently focused on the table in front of him. "Open a book and stop talking.”
Crowley, ever the dramatist, performed an exaggerated pantomime of locking his lips and throwing away the key, confident that Asaph's peripheral vision would give him the gist of it. That done, he did as he was told, cracked open the first book he reached for, and began searching for ways to prevent the apocalypse. He leaned over the dusty old book with an intense focus, shifted into research mode. Crowley did not glance up at Asaph, nor did the librarian take a peek at him, so neither realized that they both wore the same stubborn smile, a look of bemused charm, as they worked.
Chapter 8: in which a library all-nighter is pulled
Crowley was sleeping fitfully, as he had done more or less daily for centuries now. He slept with one eye open, both ears open, and in a more recent development, clutching his mobile in his hand with the ringer at its highest volume. The subconscious desire to find an excuse to wake up came with the territory of being the vampire that all other vampires hated.
When Crowley’s phone rang, he didn’t just wake up; he bolted upright, at full alert. The call was picked up and the phone at his ear before he had even had a chance to open his eyes.
“‘Lo?” he grunted, already scrambling to turn the lights on and pulling on whatever clothes his hands found first.
“Oh, Crowley,” came Asaph’s high, prim voice, a little breathless from surprise. “I didn’t expect you to pick up.”
Crowley froze in the middle of pulling his jacket on and glanced at the clock, which told him it was a good few hours until sundown. “Why would you call if you didn’t want me to pick up?”
“It’s not that I didn’t want you to,” Asaph said, “I just – well, I thought you’d be asleep. I would have left a message.”
“I always pick up,” Crowley replied, his tone perhaps a bit sterner and darker than necessary. “I was asleep,” he continued, allowing himself to relax marginally at the sound of the librarian’s voice. “Do you need something?”
Asaph cleared his throat ostentatiously. “Er, yes, actually,” he stammered, “I was wondering if – well, if you wouldn’t mind doing me a favor.”
“What kind of favor?”
“Could you – I mean, do you have contacts, around the city?”
Crowley narrowed his eyes, hoping the gesture would come through in his voice. Not wanting to seem too eager, lest he fall victim to hubris and lose what little trust he had built up. “What kind of contacts?”
There was a deep, patient breath from the other end of the line. “I mean, do you know people who could tell you if, for instance, it would be particularly dangerous to let the children patrol by themselves tonight?”
“You want me to ask around among my circle of fiends to find out if any of them are planning on being more beastly than usual this evening?”
“Er, yes,” Asaph said quietly, and then he paused before adding, “if you wouldn’t mind.”
Crowley sniffed. “Can I ask why?”
“Well, I was just thinking, erm.” The librarian’s voice was so strained, Crowley feared for a moment that he might be in genuine pain, that something might be seriously wrong, before Asaph finished his thought. “I was thinking, if it would be safe to send the children out alone, it would give you and me time to find out some more about this ritual.”
Ah, there it was. Crowley relaxed once more. No serious issues, just the watcher’s general distaste for him and reluctance to ask for his help. “Alright,” he said, as casually as he could manage. “I’ll see what I can find out.”
“Right, let me know,” came the reply, and then the line went dead.
Over the next few hours, Crowley made many phone calls, a few promises, and several threats in order to find out how the evening was looking, from the monster side of things. The response from the local vampires was an overwhelming heap of boredom, with a healthy side of contempt, but Crowley did get the information he needed.
“There’s nothing going on,” he told Asaph on the phone. “Everyone I spoke to is just planning regular old hunting. Adam could handle it with one hand tied behind his back.”
“Oh,” said the librarian, as if he had expected worse news. “Did they say why?”
“They can feel it in the air,” Crowley explained. “The big one. They’re not involved, but they know it’s coming. It’s best to lie low, when something like that is approaching, because the slayer tends to get a bit trigger-happy. That’s age-old vampire wisdom for you.”
Asaph rolled his eyes so hard, Crowley almost heard it. “Well, thank you for that,” he said dryly. “You can come by the library as soon as the sun goes down.”
“It’s a date.”
“It’s not –”
“Ciao,” Crowley said with a grin, and hung up before Asaph could get another word in.
When Crowley showed up at the library right on time, holding a bag of carryout, Asaph looked surprised. He felt more than heard or saw the vampire’s approach, because he still insisted on entering the library through one of the high windows, no matter how many times Asaph told him that the door was perfectly functional. Crowley hopped up on a table without hesitation, tearing open the bag, lifting out several containers of the best Chinese food in town, all while the librarian looked on, his face a mask of confusion tinged with a vague sense of disapproval.
“I wasn’t sure what you’d like,” the vampire said by way of explanation, “so I got a little of everything. The egg foo young is to die for, and I would know.” He laughed quietly to himself, then gave the librarian an exaggerated wink.
Groaning and rolling his eyes at the awful joke, Asaph looked over the food, suddenly realizing he was, in fact, starving. Nevertheless, he hardened his expression and shook his head. “We can’t afford to waste time,” he said curtly.
Crowley looked at him as if he had whipped cream all over his face that he was trying to ignore. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” he said, blunt as ever. “What we can’t afford is you wasting away to nothing. When was the last time you ate?”
“Erm…” Asaph thought for a long moment. “Breakfast?”
Sliding down from his perch on top of the table, Crowley grabbed the librarian by the shoulders and steered him to a seat, dropping a plate in front of him, piled high with food. “You eat,” he said firmly, leaving no room for argument. “I’ll start in on… whatever that is,” he added, indicating the tall stack of books and notes that Asaph had on the table.
Apparently satisfied that he’d put up enough of a fight, the librarian gave in, digging into the food in front of him as Crowley cracked open a book. He read fast, piping up occasionally to ask a question, working his way through the information that Asaph had gathered during the day.
“So if it’s just people,” he wondered aloud, “why can’t we just kill them? Wouldn’t that stop the whole thing happening?”
Asaph shook his head, swallowing his mouthful of rice before answering. “New scholarship shows that it’s a human-designed ritual, but the underlying force is something else,” he said. “Whatever it is, it would find more humans to prey on.”
“Okay,” Crowley said, and then he was quiet for seven minutes before he turned back to the librarian. “What’s their motivation?”
“Pretty standard doomsday cult,” Asaph replied. “Think if they bring about the end times, they’ll be spared, or saved, or some utter rot of that sort.”
Crowley hummed in acknowledgement, refocusing his attention on the books. After another ten minutes or so, he looked up again. “So we’ve got the underground thing – is that relevant, or just a side effect? – and the low temperatures, and everything, but how is it actually going to happen? I mean, those things by themselves won’t end the world, will they?”
Shaking his head again, the librarian dabbed at his mouth with a napkin and moved closer to turn the page of the book Crowley was reading. “No, see,” he said, pointing to a spot near the bottom of the page, “it starts with these odd natural phenomena, then supposedly the final blow is a cataclysmic seismic event.”
“Sounds like a party,” Crowley mumbled.
“I think, so long as we can keep Adam away, and figure out an answer for this bit, it shouldn’t be too bad.” Asaph shuffled some papers together and pulled a book out of the middle of the pile as he spoke. “They can’t complete their ceremony without him, and if we can find the bloody counter-ritual, we can stop it from happening in the future.”
Crowley nodded, pressing his lips together, and took a deep breath. “Well, then,” he said determinedly, “I guess that’s the agenda for tonight? Find the bloody counter-ritual?”
“Find the bloody counter-ritual,” Asaph agreed.
They both dove diligently into their respective books without another word. Asaph had a lifetime of practice with staying up all night reading, and Crowley had the advantage of not needing to eat or sleep or breathe, so it was an easy, quiet task for them to commit to researching for hours on end. When they found pertinent information, they would write it down, sometimes taking a moment to slide it over for the other to read, if it seemed important enough.
At one point, Crowley let out a shocked little laugh, a high, sharp noise that pulled Asaph out of his own head to look up in confusion. He tried to lean in to get a glimpse at what Crowley was reading, but the vampire slammed the book shut so abruptly that the sound echoed in the library. Asaph arched an eyebrow at him, startled and concerned.
“S’nothing,” Crowley muttered fervently. “Don’t worry about it.”
The librarian nodded slowly, returning his gaze to the pages in front of him. “Okay,” he said, entirely unconvinced, still worrying about it.
An indeterminate number of hours went by before either man spoke again. The passage of time was a nebulous thing in the library at night, with no human activity and very little natural light to indicate any difference as the hours went on. So it could have been half an hour or half a day later when Crowley started shouting and jumped out of his seat as if he were spring-loaded.
“I found it!” he yelled, an awed grin spreading across his face. “I found it, and it’s easy!”
Asaph leapt to his feet as well, craning his neck to see the book that Crowley held in his hands as he hopped joyfully. “What do you mean, it’s easy?”
“I mean the counter-ritual is easy! So easy, we can do it no problem! Saving the world never looked so bloody simple!” He slowed down, showing the page to the librarian.
“That is… easy,” Asaph said as it dawned on him. “A little Latin, a drop of blood, that’s it? I could do that in my sleep.”
Crowley nodded, his eyes gleaming. “You could,” he said, his tone tinged with an odd sincerity. He set the book down gently on the table. “Have we done it?”
A long pause lingered while Asaph tried to catch up with reality. “I think we’ve done it,” he said at last, meeting the vampire’s gaze.
All at once, the tension and the fear and the anxiety bled out of them, and they breathed deeply for the first time in several hours. Crowley’s shoulders slumped, Asaph’s face relaxed. A split second passed before they fell into each other, moving toward each other at the same time and with the same intensity, meeting in the middle in a deep embrace. It was less affection and more celebration, two exhausted and relieved beings holding each other up when they badly wanted to fall down. In another circumstance, Crowley might have tried something, but not here, not now. He was comfortable, satisfied with this brief connection, with having Asaph in his arms and closing his eyes and breathing him in.
Crowley heard the door of the library before Asaph did. The look on the librarian’s face as he pulled away abruptly was enough to make Crowley want to touch him again, but now there was a third party in their company, and he didn’t know the rules. He turned to see a woman he didn’t know, although Asaph seemed familiar.
“Darling,” he cooed, stepping toward her, “what are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night.”
Anathema snorted. “It’s 7:15 in the morning, dumbass,” she drawled, “the school is open. Have you been here all night?” She gave him a quick once-over, taking in his wrinkled clothes and disheveled hair, before turning her gaze on Crowley. “With your positively dashing young man?”
The librarian looked panic-stricken for a moment, his gaze flitting back and forth between Crowley and Anathema as he floundered for an appropriate response. His mouth opened and closed a few times, perhaps thinking it was going to form words, perhaps simply showing off the functionality of the hinges of his jaw. Crowley watched, embarrassed for himself and for Asaph, trying his best not to feel too endeared.
“Anthony Crowley,” he said smoothly, turning to Anathema again, saving Asaph from having to say anything at all. “Pleased to meet you.”
Anathema smiled, or bared her teeth, Crowley couldn’t quite tell. “Charmed, I’m sure,” she said. “How do you two know each other?”
“Anthony is a, erm, social worker,” Asaph piped up quickly, looking rather proud of himself. “With the mentoring program. With the kids.”
“Right,” Anathema replied, in the tone of a parent who is expected to believe that the broken window in front of them was the fault of a freak gust of wind. “Well, I’ll leave you to it, then,” she said, stepping in close to kiss both of the librarian’s cheeks. “Call me later, yeah?”
“Yes, of course,” Asaph replied almost reflexively, and then he watched alongside Crowley as Anathema made her way out the door.
When she was safely gone, Crowley turned to him with one eyebrow arched. “A social worker?”
Asaph cleared his throat, embarrassed, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “I couldn’t very well say vampire, could I?”
“I suppose not,” the vampire said with a nod, thinking of the expression Anathema wore when she looked at the two of them. “So – I’ll be going, then,” he added awkwardly, shuffling away from the librarian just a bit, putting some distance between them.
"Yes," Asaph muttered, half to himself, and turned away, back to his table full of books and notes. "I'll, er… fine tune the details on all this and, you know. Be in touch."
Crowley looked up to the window he usually used to get in and out of the library and saw the gray beginnings of sunrise. Sighing, rolling his eyes, he made off in the direction of the basement, throwing a vague hand in the air behind him by way of goodbye. When he had left his flat the night before, it was with the intention of returning before the sun came up; traversing the sewers was not in the plan, and he was wearing the wrong shoes for it, but he didn’t have much of an option.
With Crowley gone, the library quiet, Asaph found his attention returning once again to the impending apocalypse. It was nearly handled, he told himself, practically a non-issue at this point, except for a few insignificant details regarding the when and the where. His gaze roved over the piles of documents on the table, and within seconds it fell decidedly on one book in particular, a thick, dusty tome of local legends, the book that had made Crowley laugh, for some reason.
Asaph was curious, he could admit that much to himself. He picked up the book and began carefully flipping through the pages, looking for any indication of what had made Crowley react that way. It didn’t take him long to find it: right in the middle of the book, a sketch in the detailed style of a bestiary. His fangs were exaggerated, his hair tangled, his face twisted into its vampire form, but it was undeniably a picture of Crowley.
The librarian’s eyes went wide with intrigue and his gaze flitted briefly to the clock. He had time. Taking a seat, he slowly turned the pages back until he reached the beginning of that particular chapter, surprised to find out that there was an entire segment of the book dedicated to Crowley. Asaph began drinking in the words, desperate to satisfy his curiosity, trying not to think about why Crowley might have wanted to hide this from him.
Known even among his own kind as a cunning and cruel beast, Antonius Iulius Crollus has long been a source of terror in several localities, although his activity has been chiefly confined to the area of Great Britain. The modus operandi of this fiend is difficult to understand, characterized by rapid strikes with no discernable pattern of choosing targets, though this can perhaps be attributed to the lack of credible information about him or his victims. All of the humans confirmed to have been killed by Crollus have been found lying face down with their bodies covered in a black cloth; the significance of this gesture is unknown, but it has been determined to be unique to Crollus. One popular scholar theorized that it was a symbolic representation of the soul’s journey into Hell, either for ceremonial reasons or simply because Crollus has a dark and ruthless sense of humor, and it is for this reason that he is known among vampirologists as the Demon. His murders are often executed while the victim is asleep or otherwise rendered unconscious, leaving few living souls behind as witness to his heinous crimes.
As such, the primary source of knowledge on him is his fellow vampires, largely questioned under duress, although some are simply hoping to aid in human endeavours to defeat him, so as to eliminate one of their greatest competitors. It is for this reason that information on him is scarce and spotty, difficult to find and equally difficult to rely upon. Many sources claim exclusive knowledge of his whereabouts, but these almost always turn out to be false claims; news of his comings and goings is often decades out of date. What consensus there is regarding this particular beast has been reached only through centuries of tales being passed down by word of mouth, this volume being the first known attempt to record his history in print.
He has used many different names, often changing dependent on his location and with timely trends. The author's use of the Latinised form is a tool to circumvent this inconsistency, to prevent any confusion. The first confirmed encounter names him as Antonius Crollus, and thus will we, but a portion of this chapter will provide as comprehensive a list as possible of his aliases in order to mitigate this particular trickery of his (see Appendix A).
Reliable sightings of the Demon begin in the mid-fourteenth century in Ireland, accompanied by a potentially apocryphal story of his life prior to being changed. According to local legend, he was the youngest son of a large family on a small farm. The chain of events is hazy and out of order, but many believe that Antonius was bitten by a passing vampire, who then helped him slaughter his family. Others claim that the man was changed as an unfortunate effect of an attempt to kill the entire family, where he was the sole survivor, at the cost of his soul. In either case, the Demon began his murderous life here.
For centuries, he was never seen without a companion at his side, a taller man who is never named, and whose face is rarely seen. Although it is widely believed that this man is a vampire as well, there are no deaths credibly attributed to this man in the Demon’s long history. This shadowy figure has long been a point of contention among vampirologists; there are some who claim he is a kind of lackey for Crollus, while others assert that he is the mastermind behind the horror, and others still believe he may not exist at all. New sources in recent years have argued that Crollus and the man are lovers, though there is little evidence for this claim. Notwithstanding the nature of their association, reported sightings of Crollus from circa 1350 to the end of the eighteenth century all feature this tall, unidentified man.
Certain alleged encounters are more credible than others, because they can be corroborated by multiple sources or, occasionally, by official records such as death certificates. The murder of Mary Anne Wentworth in 1539 is one such case: her death is listed in official village records, along with a cause of death (blood loss) and a detailed outline of the statements given by locals regarding the event. These sources paint a picture of a young girl exsanguinated in the dead of night and left in the position unique to victims of Crollus; combined with four similar deaths in surrounding areas that month, and several informants confirming that Crollus was in the village at the time, it quickly becomes clear what happened that night.
Deaths like that of Mary Anne Wentworth are interspersed throughout this vampire’s long career (see Appendix B for a full list of his confirmed victims). In cases where the victim is identifiable, research has been conducted in order to search for any links between the victims and the supernatural world, or among the victims themselves, but no clear connections have appeared. Prevalent theories tend to agree that Crollus is motivated by a sincere cruelty and bloodlust, rather than an urge that could be rationalized in any way. Many of his victims have not, in fact, been drained of blood at all; they have been strangled, disemboweled, their throats slit, or killed by blunt force trauma; this is a monster displaying his skill like an artist, rather than an animal seeking to feed.
The trail of bodies behind the Demon is not altogether unique among vampires, although his methods and his strange companion set him apart slightly, putting him on the fringes of vampire scholarship. He is often considered an outlier: a study of Crollus is not a study of vampires at large, because his exploits are such that he has earned his place in this volume as an individual. More significant than his violence and cruelty in differentiating him from others of his kind is the aura of mystery surrounding him. His appearances were predominantly routine for over four hundred years: he would commit gruesome acts of violence, going mostly unseen by local humans, always trailing along with the strange unknown man, and then repeat the process in another village a short time later.
The major mystery of the Demon’s life concerns the time since the turn of the nineteenth century. The last time that a human had a confirmed encounter with him was James Keyes in 1788, almost two hundred years ago. Since then, his existence can only be traced through the grapevine, by the testimony of other vampires. These sources are few and far between, and must necessarily be taken with a grain of salt, but the overwhelming consensus among them is that when Crollus does surface, he is the same beast as he has always been.
Without falling too far into the territory of speculation, very little can be said for the past two hundred years of activity in the Demon’s life. One strange fact that every story confirms, however, is that the unidentified man who stayed by his side for four centuries has not been seen since 1788. Additionally, though vampire witnesses insist that Crollus has not lost his penchant for ruthless violence, no credible cases of his signature murder scene have appeared since then. It is unknown if these facts are related, but it seems that if he is indeed still the Demon, he has chosen largely to direct his sadism away from humans and toward his fellow vampires.
There are many possible answers to the question of where Crollus has been these past two centuries. Some scholars assert that he was slain in the late eighteenth century, and every alleged sighting of him since then has been erroneous. Others believe that he has simply gotten better at hiding in plain sight, that he is not only still a threat to human lives, but he is in fact an increased threat. The truth is it is impossible to know what has happened to the Demon, but there is no room for complacence; he has proven himself to be an evil, vicious killer, and he can reappear at any time.
Asaph skipped reading both appendices. He closed the book, shoved it aside, and then decided that that was not enough for him; unwilling to destroy a volume like it, he chose instead to place it on a high shelf and try his best to forget where it was located. He took a deep breath, realizing distantly that he could taste blood from where he had bitten his lip while he read. It was the least of his worries.
The top of his list of priorities, as usual, was to make himself some tea. Given enough tea and enough time, Asaph Fell could take over the world. Unfortunately, he neither needed nor wanted to take over the world, and tea was not going to help with what he did need to do. It was, however, remarkably good at fostering a healthy environment in which to dither, and dithering was what he did best.
a message from your friendly neighborhood historian: human sources from the 1950s are not always reliable, and vampirologists are not real scholars, and i'm sorry for defaming crowley's character, and i promise to make up for this libelous content.
Chapter 10: in which feelings are felt
Just as quickly as he had cottoned onto Crowley, Asaph forced himself to erase the vampire from his life. It was a simple task when it came to the business side of things: whatever plans they had made for averting the apocalypse could be altered for Asaph to undertake alone. The difficult part, he was finding, was to stop thinking about Crowley at all hours of the day.
In spite of the new information he had acquired, Asaph still implicitly trusted that Crowley wouldn't hurt anybody, so long as he was left alone. There was no need to go picking a fight with him, not when he had managed to get this far without causing any serious damage. It was enough for Asaph's peace of mind to end his association with the vampire and leave him to his sordid ways, far away from the children.
He performed a few quick rituals to bar the library to vampire entry, and then he hung crosses and garlic by every door and window, just to be safe. He also began carrying an emergency kit on him with stakes, crosses, and holy water in it, also just to be safe. And, just to be safe, he took up nightly patrols again, a decision which was met with much whining from the kids.
"S'just ludicrous," Adam protested. "We've been doing just fine on our own, nobody's gotten hurt or anything."
"It's not that I don't trust you," the librarian attempted to explain. "Things are afoot, you see, and we must be ever vigilant."
"What, you mean like the apocalypse or whatever?" Brian piped up helpfully.
Asaph shifted his weight from foot to foot, shaking his head guiltily. “Er, no, not that,” he stammered. “That’s, well – that’s all dealt with, now. No need for you lot to worry about it.”
All four of the children eyed him suspiciously, then turned to make meaningful eye contact with each other. Pepper raised her eyebrows, Brian jerked his head toward the watcher, Wensley rolled his eyes, Adam nodded sagely.
“Sure, alright,” said the slayer after the short, silent conversation with his friends. “We just did all that research and found zero answers and now it’s suddenly all dealt with?”
“It is,” the librarian asserted confidently. “Now, you mustn’t dwell on it any longer. We’ve got other work to do.”
Pepper made a noise halfway between a scoff and a guffaw, placing her hands on her hips in a stunning impression of her mother. “Like what? Walking around at night, not having any fun?” She made a sweeping gesture to indicate the empty street they were on. “It’s boring, is what it is.”
Adam stopped walking, drawing the attention of the group. “The way I see it, really there’s no reason for any of us to be patrolling,” he said simply. “We did it without you for a bit, Az, and we didn’t even save anyone. Nothing’s happening.”
“An’ it’s cold,” Wensley added.
That got Asaph’s attention instantly. “Yes, it is rather cold, isn’t it?” He glanced up to the sky as if looking for answers, then shook his head. “It is… unseasonably cold,” he muttered to himself. “Alright, then, we can call it a night. I suppose there really isn’t much to do out here these days.”
The kids breathed a collective sigh of relief and piled into the librarian’s car, speaking very little on the drive, afraid to upset the pleasant turn the evening had taken. An early night more time for Pepper to play video games, for Brian to work on his comic book, for Wensley to triple-check his homework, and for Adam to do whatever it was Adam did. None of them particularly wished to ruin it at this point, so they didn’t complain about Asaph’s choice in music, nor his abysmal driving, and they politely thanked him as he dropped them off.
When he was alone again, Asaph decided to go straight home instead of heading back to the library. He didn’t want to be too predictable, didn’t want to make it too easy for anyone who might want to find him, not to mention he didn’t want to stare at the blinking light on his voicemail box, desperately urging himself not to listen to the messages Crowley had left. He couldn’t delete them, though, and he didn’t quite know why.
The strangest part of all of it, to him, was that he felt like he should have been afraid. He felt on an intellectual, logical level that it would make sense for him to be terrified for his own life at all times, constantly on high alert in case the storied murderer he’d accidentally befriended chose to seek him out. While he took precautions, however, he wasn’t afraid, not really, which made it all the more confusing that he still felt so wretched.
It took several days for Asaph to arrive at the sensible conclusion that flowed naturally from the events and circumstances which were troubling him. He had thought, no matter how much he had tried to convince himself not to, he had thought he could trust Crowley. And he felt so silly, so abysmally stupid for having let his guard down and let the vampire in, so damned foolish for breaking all his own rules and going against all his instincts and actually thinking he could come out of it unscathed. He felt betrayed, and he hated himself for being in a position that made him so easy to betray.
He attempted to drown his sorrows in research, as was his wont. He knew he would be able to pull off the ritual to stop the apocalypse without Crowley’s help, but he refused to get complacent, so he set up countermeasures to back up his countermeasures, studied the incantation until he could recite it in his sleep, got himself heavily acquainted with blood so he could be certain he wouldn’t chicken out when the moment came. It was easier to apply his laser focused intelligence to this problem than to even approach handling his emotional depths.
Asaph soon got in the habit of adding a splash of whiskey to nearly every cup of tea.
Chapter 11: in which the layers of deception and miscommunication get even more confusing
Crowley was not concerned that a week had gone by and he hadn't heard from Asaph. He was trying to play it cool, seeing as the last time they had spoken, someone had walked in on them holding each other, and Asaph had seemed rather uncomfortable with the situation. So in theory, Crowley was giving the man some space and time, to reach out when he was ready.
In reality, he left a few messages, sent a few texts, hovered over a few nights of patrolling. He was lousy at playing it cool. But he could clearly see, from the healthy distance at which he followed the gang at night so as to go unnoticed, that Asaph was alive and safe, and that was all he needed to know. It was enough to keep him from approaching the man directly, at least.
Crowley was at his flat, relaxing in the middle of the day, when there was a knock at his door. He hopped up to answer it, letting a small amount of expectation or hope seep into his thoughts, which drained out of him as soon as he opened the door.
"Hello. Anthony, wasn't it? I need to talk to you."
Crowley stepped to the side to allow his visitor inside, mostly because he was positive she would go through him if he didn't move. "Er, yes, hi. I never got your name, I believe."
"Anathema," she replied coolly, taking a seat and gesturing irritably for Crowley to sit across from her.
"Right, Anathema," Crowley repeated, feeling very awkward in his own home. He took the invitation and sat down, keeping his back straight, folding his hands in his lap. "How did you know where to find me?"
Anathema gave him a devious little smile. "Asaph keeps a meticulous address book," she said, pulling a small leather-bound journal out of her pocket, “but he’s not very meticulous about where he keeps it.”
Crowley nodded, trying to hide the way his lips twitched up into an involuntary smile. “Fair enough,” he replied. Waiting for Anathema to speak, he narrowed his eyes, expectant and puzzled. “So, what do we need to talk about?”
She took a deep breath and shook her head, looking very much as if she would rather have been anywhere else, talking to anyone else. “Listen, I know we don’t really even know each other,” she began, sounding stilted and awkward, but by no means nervous. “But you’re pretty much the only other adult I’ve seen hanging out with Asaph in a long time, so I thought you might be able to help me out.”
“Help you out?”
“With him,” Anathema explained vaguely. “He’s been acting funny. I was hoping you might know what’s going on.”
Crowley dug his fingernails into the skin of his hands, furrowing his brow. “No, I’ve no clue. What’s wrong? Is he okay?”
“I don’t know. He’s –” Anathema paused, biting the inside of her cheek, considering her words. “He’s in a mood, lately, and I’m worried. It could be nothing, it’s probably nothing, but. But I’ve seen him in a dark place before, and this is starting to look familiar.”
Crowley inhaled sharply and grit his teeth. He felt stupid, now, for not having tried harder to get Asaph’s attention, for not recognizing what was apparently a red flag. “He hasn’t spoken to me in a bit,” he said quietly. “Since that morning in the library, actually. I don’t know why. I thought it was –” he cleared his throat, looking down at his hands. “I thought it was because he was embarrassed. That you’d seen us together.”
“Should he be embarrassed?”
“No!” Crowley said hastily, and then he hesitated. “I mean, I don’t think so,” he added, much less certain of himself. “I mean, I think I’m a decent bloke. Can’t think of a good reason to be ashamed of being… allied with me.”
Anathema made a show of rolling her eyes so conspicuously that Crowley worried she might give herself a headache. “Right. Allied,” she deadpanned. “Is that what they’re calling it these days?”
Folding his arms tight across his chest, Crowley slumped back in his seat. “There’s nothing going on between us,” he mumbled, trying his level best not to sound bitter. “Nothing at all, apparently.”
There was a beat of thoughtful silence while Anathema looked him over, gauging his trustworthiness and pitying him just the tiniest bit, and then she hummed a quiet affirmation and stood to leave. “Alright,” she said airily, “thanks anyway, I guess. Sorry to have bothered you.”
“No bother,” Crowley replied reflexively. “Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.” He put his mile-long legs to use to beat Anathema to the door and open it for her, a gracious smile plastered on his face, and waited until she was out of sight before closing the door.
It took only seconds for the worry and doubt to claim squatters rights over Crowley’s mind and set up residence, and he dragged his fingers down his face as he threw himself onto the sofa. Something was wrong, and he couldn’t help but feel like it was his fault for not worrying more, and earlier, for ignoring every nagging thought for the past week that reminded him that this was different, different, different. He attempted to strike a balance between his guilt and his pragmatic desire to fix this, but he quickly leaned far to one side, his tone full of self-loathing as he muttered a soft “Well, fuck.”
Anathema heaved an exasperated sigh as she made her way down a school hallway with a purpose. She had spent the previous evening making plans, and now it was time to execute part one of her scheme, which was rather brilliant, she thought. And all she had to do was catch Adam and his gang somewhere far away from the library. It was her planning hour, so she was searching the halls; she knew for a fact that the kids could often be found simply wandering during class, but it took her forty minutes to spot one of them.
“Brian!” Anathema whisper-yelled to the boy, who was a dozen yards down the hall with his back to her. “Shit, what’s his last name?” she muttered to herself, and then she saw the other kids emerge from around a corner, and they saw her.
She half-jogged to catch up to them before they could wander off again. “Hey, guys,” she said as casually as possible. “You’re impossible to find, you know that?”
The children all looked up at her quizzically. Brian and Pepper tried their damnedest to look innocent, but they were nigh incapable of it, even when they weren’t doing anything wrong. Wensley looked intensely guilty, and Adam just narrowed his eyes, examining her.
Pepper cleared her throat after a few seconds, shuffling her feet and looking rather small. She had a general distaste for authority, but Anathema was her favorite teacher in the school, a role model, even, one of only a small handful of adults that she held any amount of respect for. “Hi, Ms. Device,” she said, not sounding timid, because Pepper didn’t do timid.
“Why’re you trying to find us?” Adam asked with blunt curiosity.
Anathema took a deep breath. “Well, you see, I need your help with something.”
The puzzled expressions only grew deeper as the children exchanged looks among themselves. “What could you need our help for?” Brian asked, still attempting to look innocent, but he was not a good actor. “We can’t do math,” he added gravely; the others turned their confusion on him, and he jumped to explain himself. “She’s an English teacher, right? She might need help with math, then. But we can’t do math,” he repeated, turning back to Anathema.
“I don’t need you to do any math,” Anathema assured him. “I need your help with a… personal matter. Well, not my personal matter. It’s a personal matter of Mr. Fell’s. I know you guys are close with him, right?”
“Yeah,” Adam replied, “we’re all good pals. Is he alright?”
Anathema pursed her lips. “I’m not sure,” she said. “Have you noticed he seems a bit lonely?”
“Don’t think he has many friends,” Wensley said, shaking his head sympathetically.
“Right. What do you think of that social worker in your mentoring program?”
Brian, Pepper, and Wensley looked suddenly completely lost, while Adam stayed stoic and still, keeping his face neutral, saying nothing. He cocked his head to the side, looking as if he were trying to put a face to the person in question, so Anathema continued.
“He’s tall,” she explained, “and British, like Mr. Fell. I think his name’s Anthony?”
“Yes,” Adam said, raising his voice to cover the confused mutterings of his friends. “Yeah, we know him. Mr. Crowley, the social worker. He’s nice.”
Brian wrinkled his brow deeply and opened his mouth to ask a question, but Adam shushed him and shot him a glare at all three of his friends that said Don’t blow this right now, I’ll explain later.
Pepper nodded in understanding. “Yup, he’s definitely nice. We like him a lot.”
Anathema’s face split into a wide grin. “Great,” she said with a sigh of relief, “that’s wonderful. Because, you see, I think Mr. Crowley might be a little lonely, as well.” She took in the blank expressions of the children and it dawned on her that they weren’t going to pick up on heavy hinting. “I want Mr. Fell and Mr. Crowley both to be happy,” she continued, “and I think it would be nice if we could get them to hang out with each other more. What do you think?”
“We would love to help you, of course,” Adam replied sincerely, the gears turning in his head at a mile a minute. “We also want Mr. Fell and Mr. Crowley to be happy and not so lonely. What can we do?”
“I need you to, um.” Anathema considered her words carefully, knowing how this group could get into trouble. “I need you to act out. Do something that would require a sit-down with your mentor and the social worker at the same time. That’ll get them in the same room, and I’ll handle the rest. Can you manage that?”
Adam gave a solemn nod. “Ma’am, believe me, I can manage any conceivable level of mischief.”
“Good,” Anathema said, and then added a sharp “Don’t call me ma’am,” and then she walked away.
Wensley, Brian, and Pepper turned to Adam, each hovering at a slightly different level of confusion, waiting for an explanation. Adam was beaming.
“What was that about?” Wensley asked.
“That was wicked deception,” Adam said cryptically. He paused for a moment to appreciate it before going on to explain. “It seems that Az has not been totally honest with us,” he said, “because apparently Ms. Device has seen him and Anthony hanging out together.”
“Oh,” Brian said. “Why would they do that?”
Adam shook his head, still smiling. “Excellent question. Your guess is as good as mine.”
Pepper smiled now, too. “And we’re gonna try and get them, like, more together?”
“Yeah, we are,” said Adam. “We just gotta figure out how to do it, you know, our way.”
Wensley piped up, “What do you mean, our way?”
Adam’s grin grew wider than ever, and he practically vibrated with excitement, already concocting a dozen different plans in his head. “I mean, I think we’re gonna need to do some snooping.”
Adam's thrall over his friends was a privilege he hated to abuse; he had always been hyperaware of how he spoke to them, what he asked of them. They followed him with unparalleled loyalty, even when he wished they wouldn't. Since the slayer business began, Adam's favorite line had become I don't want to put you in any unnecessary danger, and his friends were rapidly tiring of it. It was only now, standing huddled around a drinking fountain, that any of them voiced their complaints.
"This isn't dangerous," Pepper said, rolling her eyes hard enough that it was nearly audible.
"Okay, yeah," Adam conceded with a sigh, "this is fine. I mean, you're in danger of getting in huge trouble, but not your actual life, I know." He looked at each of his friends in turn, studying their expressions for any hints of uncertainty. "I just want you guys to know you don't have to do any of this if you don't want to," he said, speaking in level, diplomatic tones. "And I want you to know that you're all really awesome."
Brian and Wensleydale both smiled at him, appreciating the recognition, but Pepper rolled her eyes again. "You sound like you're giving a eulogy," she deadpanned. "What's our plan?"
Adam gave one businesslike nod to acknowledge that he understood what was left unsaid, and then began to delve into the plan he'd concocted. "Me and Brian will distract Az and keep him far away from the library," he explained in a hushed voice. "Pepper and Wensley, you sneak into his office and – well, look around."
"What are we looking for?" Wensley asked.
"Don't know," said Adam, sounding almost glum, "anything that we can use to get him and Anthony in the same room. Just snoop your hearts out, alright?"
Pepper beamed at him. "Can do."
The group split up, Brian and Adam heading to the library, Pepper and Wensley hanging out in a secluded hallway and waiting for the go-ahead. The two boys lured the watcher out of his office with a frantic story of a rock at the east side of the school with what looked like ancient runes carved into it. It was a transparent and poorly constructed lie, but Asaph was exhausted, stressed, and very excited about runes, so he believed it. As soon as he was safely out of the way, Adam covertly texted Wensley to tell him the coast was clear, and he and Pepper went into the library office to see what they could find.
“I’ll start with the desk,” Pepper said, all business right off the bat, “and you go through those drawers over there, okay?”
Wensley nodded and set to work. There was a reason the two of them had been sent to do the reconnaissance while Adam and Brian provided the distraction. They had always been a strong team, Pepper and Wensley, always worked together seamlessly, both intelligent and outspoken without being controlling, able to get the job done with minimal arguing or stalling.
The only sounds in the room for several minutes were opening drawers and shuffling papers, with an occasional muttering from the kids. At one point, Pepper dug a small box out of the bottom of what looked to be a junk drawer, and immediately barked out a high laugh.
Wensley turned away from what he was reading to look at her. “What? What is it?”
Pepper held up the box and showed it to him, shaking with laughter while she waited for him to read the words premium latex condoms, at which point Wensley groaned and wrinkled his nose.
“Gross. What’s he need those for?”
“Pretty sure there’s just the one main use for them,” Pepper snickered, taking the box back from him to bury it in the drawer again. She took a longer look at the box and added, “They expired in 2013.”
Wensley stared for a moment, then giggled. “That’s reassuring, at least,” he mumbled, turning back to his readings.
There was another short minute of quiet before Pepper heard a sharp gasp from Wensley, the kind of gasp that makes one turn instantly to see if someone has been hurt. Wensley wasn’t hurt, of course, but he was gaping at an open journal on the table before him, his eyes wide, unbreathing and unmoving. Pepper moved to his side quickly, placing a hand on his arm and leaning in to see what he had read, rightly thinking that he might not be able to answer if she asked him about it. It was a page of notes, clearly in the watcher’s handwriting.
- summons creatures from underground - moles? worms? (Malcolm 241)
- unnaturally low temperatures (Luther 56; Marquez 157)
- ritual requires supplies (see Malcolm 469) and specific location - unknown (Preston 310)
- preliminary ritual disarms slayer - educated opponent (Luther 548)
- human ritual, not demonic or otherworldly in origin (likely a religious sect? political faction?) (Preston 483)
- ritual is only complete when slayer is dead (Marquez 277)
- to stop ritual - ???
When she caught up to where Wensley had stopped reading, it was all Pepper could do to whisper “Shit…” and snap a photo with her phone. Wensley shook off his horror and shock enough to put everything back where he’d found it, and the two of them left the library without speaking, both trembling and pale.
Pepper and Wensley caught Adam and Brian in the midst of trying to convince the librarian that a bit of bird poop on the brick wall of the school could be a sigil; they pulled the boys away in a highly suspicious manner, stammering a half-baked excuse about homework. When they had reached a safe place to talk, Pepper showed Adam the picture on her phone, and they all held their breath waiting for Adam to read it.
“This is perfect!” Adam exclaimed, after a long period of silence, and his horrified friends all slowly turned to look at the delighted grin on his face.
“It says they’re gonna kill you, Adam,” Brian protested.
Adam gave a nonchalant shrug and shook his head. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said. “This gives us plenty of fuel for the mission at hand, and that’s what matters.”
Wensley furrowed his brow deeply, frowning. “How is this helpful?”
Looking first at Wensley, then at Pepper and Brian, with an expression of endless patience, Adam smiled. “All we have to do is make them think that this stuff is going on, right?” He pointed to the phone with the list of signs. “If we play up the whole apocalypse thing, freak out Az a little bit, he’s gotta call up Anthony, right? He’ll need the help.”
“That’s a stretch,” Pepper said bluntly, “but it’s all we’ve got. What do we need to do?”
“We’ll go out on patrol tonight,” Adam explained, “and all you guys have to do is follow my lead.”
That evening, Asaph took the four kids out on patrol, as planned. There was little trouble about town, and the patrol mostly consisted of the five of them walking around, the kids talking amongst themselves while the watcher pretended he couldn’t hear them. They knew he could hear them, but the courtesy he showed by staying out of their conversations didn’t go unnoticed, and it was also an enormous advantage in their little scheme.
“You know what’s weird?” Adam asked at an opportune moment. “I keep seeing the biggest worms everywhere lately.”
“Worms?” Brian looked confused.
“Yeah, all the time,” Adam said. “Not even when it’s rained or anything. I think it’s neat.”
It took a few moments, but the other three eventually caught on to what he was doing. “Me too, actually,” Wensley chirped brightly. “Ants and beetles, too. Think I could do a science project with them, maybe.”
Pepper nodded. “You think they’re all coming out because it’s been so cold the past few weeks?”
“Could be,” Brian said sagely, as if he had any expertise on the subject whatsoever.
Adam grinned, watching the way the librarian’s shoulders tensed up as he walked in front of them. “Hope it warms up soon,” he said, a bit too loud for it to sound natural, “because I’ve been feeling tired. Like the cold is like – I dunno, draining me or something.”
Asaph came to an abrupt stop. “We’ve patrolled long enough for tonight,” he said nervously, nearly shouting in his urgency.
Without hesitation or explanation, he rushed the kids back to where he’d parked his car and drove them home, maintaining a tense, stony silence the entire time. The car was silent, too, as he returned to his own flat, but it was not the calming kind of silence he preferred; it was the kind of silence that comes of wave after wave of terror and thoughts that move so fast that there isn’t any brainpower left over for noises.
He had known this was coming, of course. He had planned for it. He had done extensive research, taken meticulous notes, but he hadn’t prepared himself enough mentally, it seemed, because the reality of it was crushing. As he climbed out of his car and made his way inside on autopilot, feeling like he couldn’t breathe, he was brought to a halt by a figure stepping in his path.
Asaph allowed himself a fraction of a second of relief at seeing Crowley’s face before he remembered why he shouldn’t. He jumped back with a small shout, scrambling for the cross that he’d forgotten to take out before, and held it up in front of the vampire.
Crowley’s hands went up instantly in a gesture of surrender. “I come in peace,” he said, and had his voice always been that smooth and dark? Come to think of it, had he always been so angular? Asaph squinted in the low light of the streetlamps, only finding himself more and more mesmerized by the way the golden light fell on Crowley’s face.
“I – you have to leave,” the librarian stuttered, nervous for ten wildly different reasons. “Now.”
Shaking his head, his hands still in the air, Crowley took a small step backward. “You can hold a stake directly to my chest while I talk, if you need,” he said, his tone level and cool. “I know you heard what I heard tonight, and we can’t let this happen. It’s getting serious, fast.”
Asaph stopped in his tracks with his mouth halfway open, wrinkling his brow. “What did you hear? How did you hear?”
“I was – you know, trailing along in the shadows while you were patrolling. Like I do.”
Setting his jaw, Asaph came into his senses at last. “You don’t,” he said firmly, “not anymore.” “You don’t come near any of us, anymore, especially those children.”
Crowley looked… well, if Asaph hadn’t known better, he’d have said that Crowley looked as if he were about to cry. “I don’t understand,” the vampire said in a broken, plaintive voice. “What’s going on? I thought we were – I mean, I thought –?”
“You can’t fool me any longer, Antonius,” the librarian spat, his tone full of venom, puffing up his chest when Crowley recoiled. “I know who you are. I know you don’t give a damn about Adam or anyone else. You’re a monster. I am giving you one chance to leave us alone, and if you get in my way, I will kill you.”
Asaph was rather proud of himself for his little speech, and he felt it would be unbecoming of him to just stand there and wait for Crowley to run away, so he circled the vampire with his cross held at arm’s length and began to retreat backward into the building without taking his eyes off of him. Crowley was still gone within a heartbeat, but the watcher felt he had gotten the final word, and he had been the first one to walk away, and that was a small victory, for him.
It wasn’t until Asaph was safely inside his flat, curled up in bed with a glass of whiskey and a maximum strength sleeping pill, that the adrenaline wore off and the dread began to creep into his chest once more. His thoughts bounced loudly around his skull, reminding him that he was alone, that something big and terrifying was coming, that he had to face it and fight it alone, that he could very easily fail, that he was alone, he was alone, he was alone. Perhaps it should have been a comforting thought, that it was all in the hands of the one and only person that Asaph knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he could trust, but he didn’t feel any better for it. It was the most he could do to hold off the tears long enough to fall asleep.
don't mix alcohol and sleeping pills, guys. it's not good. thanks.
Chapter 13: in which 'conspiring behind someone's back' is just a fancy term for teamwork
Against the best efforts of pretty much everybody, time continued to creep ever onward.
Asaph considered himself on top of the whole apocalypse business, from a professional standpoint; he knew what needed to be done, and he was prepared to do it. On a personal level, though, each day felt like a dragging footstep toward an undesirable fate. He almost wished it would come sooner, if only so he could get it over with and rid himself of the sense of looming dread hanging over him at all times.
Every moment that Asaph wasn’t with the children was spent going over and over and over his plan of action for the big day, an occupation that didn’t tend to do him any favors in the mood department. Anathema, who still insisted on lunch with the librarian every day in spite of his steady descent into full-time melancholy, quickly caught onto the fact that her plan had not panned out. She brought it up to Adam discreetly one day, and the boy shrugged and said “Well, we tried.”
Realizing it was foolish to ask children to do her bidding, and being completely unaware of the more important things that the librarian had to worry about, Anathema took it upon herself to force Asaph to socialize. It was an endeavor that began as a disaster and rapidly plateaued into just plain useless.
“You know,” she said nonchalantly over lunch, “I haven’t seen that guy around, what was his name? Andrew?”
“Anthony,” Asaph corrected her quickly, and then winced at the sound of the name coming out of his mouth. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, the kind that one takes when they’re counting to ten very slowly in their head so as to avoid a meltdown. “You won’t be seeing him.”
Trying to hide her disappointment and maintain a facade of detached interest, Anathema hummed noncommittally. “Oh? He’s, what, out of town or something?”
Leveling her with a cold glare, Asaph scoffed. “I neither know nor care where he is. Nor should you. He is a nonentity for all intents and purposes relating to either of our lives.”
“Well, alright then,” Anathema muttered sharply under her breath, choosing to drop that subject despite the fact that the conversation had brought up several more questions than it had answered. “You wanna see a movie with me and Newt this weekend?”
“Will you do it anyway?”
Asaph sighed and rolled his eyes. “Come on, darling, really? We both know you don’t actually want me there, and I don’t want to go, so why don’t you pat yourself on the back for politely inviting me and we can both move on with our days?”
Even after fifteen years of friendship, Anathema still found that Asaph’s scathing tone was such a magically specific kind of hurtful. She looked down at her hands folded in her lap, made a face she didn't want him to see, and mumbled, “Sure, fine.”
“Thank you,” said the librarian, oblivious to her tone. “I just don’t see why you insist on asking me to go out with you, when I would simply be a third wheel putting a damper on your evening.”
“You would be no such thing,” Anathema protested fiercely. “I invite you places with us because you’re my best friend, and because I want you and Newt to get to know each other. And you never do anything these days; it worries me.”
Asaph pursed his lips, furrowed his brow. “I do things,” he replied lamely. “You don’t need to worry.”
Eyeing him with concern and suspicion, Anathema blew out a huff of a breath. “Sure.”
“I’m sorry for snapping,” Asaph grumbled as an afterthought.
“Sure,” Anathema repeated, checking her watch. “Well. I’ll see you tomorrow, I suppose,” she said as she rose from her seat, making her way to the door.
“See you tomorrow,” Asaph echoed.
Then he was left alone in his office, alone with his thoughts, which were much less forgiving companions than Anathema. As soon as she was gone, he began reciting his checklist to himself, compulsively checking his safe to make sure he had all the supplies that had been in there less than an hour before, chewing his lower lip until he drew blood.
He got a short reprieve from rehashing the apocalypse plan when his train of thought got stuck on how he had treated his friend. He felt bad, of course; she didn’t know what was going on, she had no clue, and she was trying her best, being a good friend, so he did feel bad. But the cold and pragmatic part of him berated himself for alienating her when he needed her to make this plan go off.
Asaph had, in a stroke of brilliance, planned an “enrichment outing” for the children he was “mentoring.” It was a camping trip, just for the weekend, just long enough to ensure that they were far from where the action took place. He told Anathema he was going home for the weekend, meaning the elaborate manor his parents owned upstate, and asked her ever so kindly if she and her lovely girlfriend wouldn’t mind taking the kids on their little trip. Anathema was delighted to do it, eager to be in nature and happy to help out her friend, and now he was being a top notch prat to her for no reason.
He ran through his list again in his head, shoving “be nicer to Anathema” in as the task below “save the world.” It seemed a fairly rational way to prioritize, he thought. Every time he went over the list again to himself, somehow hoping he could internalize it even further than he already had, he tacked that extra step onto the end, in the hopes that he could keep his longest (and only) friendship alive long enough to save the world.
Adam and his friends went about their days as usual, pretending they didn’t know what they knew, trying to stay on the watcher’s good side. It was only a mild surprise for Adam to find a note taped to the outside of his bedroom window one evening, containing a bunch of cryptic nonsense and no signature. He rolled his eyes at it, then wrote a response and left it in the same place. His note simply said “you can text me, you know,” with his phone number written neatly underneath.
Writing to Adam had been a huge risk for Crowley, and he scoffed at the nonchalance of the reply, thinking it couldn’t possibly be that easy, not after everything that had happened. Of course, he should have expected that the slayer would be flippant about it – he was a teenager, after all – but he still hesitated to text the number, caught up in thoughts of all the ways it could go horribly wrong.
He’d been sticking to the shadows a lot more strictly than before, staying completely off the radar, both for fear of his life and for the fact that he spent most of his time drinking in his apartment. It was important, he reminded himself over and over again, to do whatever he could to help with the events going down, to protect the children (and the librarian, whom he tried not to think about) as best he could, but it was hard. It was hard because there wasn’t much he could do without being seen or heard or noticed in some way, and it was hard because he was, for lack of a better term, sad. Crowley was sad all the time, since his last interaction with Asaph, and he was not enjoying it.
That was kind of a condition of sadness, he figured, that it wasn’t enjoyable, but he wished he could do something about it, anything at all, and that was where the note came in. He had taken that risk, gambled on the chance that Adam might tell his watcher about it and get Crowley killed. The slayer had not disappointed him, so he waffled for a few days, but eventually decided to send the kid a text. It took about forty minutes for him to type out a single message.
crowley: hey. it’s me.
The response came back almost immediately, jarring Crowley as his phone buzzed in his hand.
adam young: dramatic ass. what do you want
crowley: there’s some stuff I should tell you.
adam young: yeah, no shit. i’m listening
crowley: it really would be better in person. or a phone call. a lot to say in a text.
adam young: alright then can i bring the guys to your place
crowley: the guys?
adam young: brian and pepper and wensley. we’re a package deal, fang man.
crowley: don’t call me that. yes, they can come, but keep it under wraps.
adam young: you mean don’t tell az
crowley: yeah, that’s what I mean.
adam young: darn i was super looking forward to betraying your trust and causing a shitstorm. we’ll be there right after school gets out
It was three hours of excruciating suspense before Crowley opened his door to the four kids, ushering them into his apartment with a furtive glance down the hall and locking the door. They made themselves comfortable quickly, settling on his sofa as if they lived there, and he held back a snarky comment. One of the benefits and drawbacks of being alive and alone for several centuries was a painful sense of self-awareness, and Crowley was well practiced in the art of talking himself down from a variety of moods. He reminded himself that it wasn’t their fault, none of it was their fault, and that his own stress was not an excuse to snap at children.
“You’re sure you weren’t followed?” he asked, as soon as he had gotten his breathing under control.
Adam scoffed. “Of course we’re sure.”
Shooting him a soft glare, Crowley said, “You know, he really will kill me. So it’s kind of a serious concern, just a bit.”
“Yeah, what’s going on with that?” Pepper asked, never one to prize tact over honesty. “We only just found out you two were still talking, and then you weren’t, for some reason.”
“Did you do something?” Brian interjected.
Crowley closed his eyes and sighed, exasperated. “Kind of,” he said quietly. “Not really. Or – I mean – yes really, but not – not recently.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Adam folded his arms across his chest, giving the vampire a pointed look. “You promised me information, and I think that requires full sentences.”
“This is not the information I need to give you,” Crowley said through his teeth. “I’m not even sure it’s relevant, but whatever. Your watcher found out some… things. About me, about my past. Things I’m not proud of, but there’s all this – it’s all twisted, you see, and he doesn’t have the whole story, and he won’t listen to it. It doesn’t matter.”
It mattered a great deal to Crowley; it had occupied the bulk of his thoughts since that night. He had known, as soon as Asaph threw that name in his face, called him Antonius, he had known that he was as good as done. Crowley had seen the book, he had read enough of it to know that he absolutely didn’t want Asaph to see it, but he’d been careless with it and now he was fucked.
He had spent day and night agonizing over what he could’ve done differently to prevent this; he knew it was futile, he knew the damage was done, but he couldn’t help a heaping dose of regret for what could have been. Currently imagining coming clean from the beginning, telling Asaph his whole sordid story, Crowley was buried deep in his thoughts again, pulled back only by the sound of Adam’s voice.
“Okay,” the slayer said cautiously, afraid that Crowley might start crying. “So, what did you want to tell us?”
“Oh,” Crowley said hoarsely, then cleared his throat. “Oh, erm. You said something out on patrol one night – you said there were bugs coming up from underground? And that it was cold, and you were feeling weak?”
Wensleydale sat up straight and interrupted, “Wait a minute, how’d you know that?”
“I’d been watching – watching over your patrols, for a while. You weren’t supposed to know about it.”
“Creep,” Pepper muttered under her breath, but it didn’t carry much venom.
“So, the thing is,” Crowley continued, ignoring her, “that there’s something big happening. He told you it was taken care of, but that was only because he didn’t want you lot in danger. It’s bad, and we were going to fight it together, but now he’s trying to do it by himself, and that’s really bad.”
Adam smiled, which Crowley thought was rather inappropriate for the moment. “Oh, we know all about the apocalypse thingy,” he said casually.
“Yeah, we snooped.” Adam paused for a moment before adding, “Well, Pepper and Wensley snooped. We mostly just lied. All that stuff about me being tired and everything, we made it up so that you and Az would talk to each other.”
Struggling to process this revelation, Crowley furrowed his brow in concentration. He though about it and his face fell for just a moment, and then returned to its confused expression. “So you’re not – you’re not feeling like your power’s depleted or anything?”
“Nope,” the slayer chirped brightly. “Currently at full battery. Have seen some weird bugs, though, if you want to hear about those.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” the vampire muttered to himself, gliding past the comment about the bugs. “It’s so close, why wouldn’t they do it?”
Adam shrugged, still the picture of nonchalance. “I tend not to complain about people not magically attacking me,” he said. “What we need is a plan to stop Az from killing himself.”
Crowley pushed the concern to the back of his head for the moment. “How do you suggest we go about that, then?”
“I was thinking,” Brian piped up, “Az wants us to go on that dumb enrichment camping trip next weekend, right?”
“That’s smart. He’s smart,” Crowley replied, sounding a bit sad, “sending you away, supervised, instead of just leaving you to your own devices.”
Pepper abruptly perked up, her eyes bright and wide, and exclaimed, “That’s it!” She turned to explain her idea to Adam, whose opinion was the most important on this particular issue. “I think we should tell Ms. Device the truth about the whole thing, Adam. I think she’d help us.”
“You know, I bet she would,” Adam agreed. “And it would save us the trouble of having to run away from the camping trip while she’s in charge.”
Crowley leaned forward in his seat and raised his hand lamely to grab their attention. “Sorry, Ms. who? Just curious, considering ‘the truth about the whole thing’ includes the part about me being a vampire.”
“Ms. Device is an English teacher at our school,” Pepper explained patiently, “and she’s really good friends with Az, for some reason.”
“She asked us to trick you and him into hanging out more,” Brian added.
“Right,” said Crowley suspiciously. “She have long, dark hair? Funky earrings?”
“That’s the one,” Wensley said.
Crowley nodded thoughtfully, steepling his fingers against his lips. “I agree,” he said at length. “I don’t know much about her, but I know she really… really cares about him. She can be trusted. She could help.”
Breaking out of an uncharacteristic period of silence, Adam declared, “I have a plan.” He waited until the others were all paying full attention to him, and then continued.
“Az wants us to be off camping while he’s doing this thing by himself. And I assume he expects you,” – he gestured toward Crowley – “to be here in the city, yeah?”
The group nodded their affirmation of the very basic facts Adam had laid out, and he gave a conspiratorial grin. “So, my idea is, instead of being those places, where he wants us to be, we should be there, where the thing is happening.”
Crowley let out a short, bitter laugh. “That’s your plan? We should be there?”
“It’s a work in progress,” Adam said defensively, “but it’s a big first step. Can’t do anything else unless we’re there.”
The other three children nodded in support of his statement and his plan. Crowley sighed, rolled his eyes, internally wondered how he got to this point in his life, but eventually gave in.
“Fine,” he said, slightly irritably, “it’s half a plan.”
Adam extended a hand and waited several awkward seconds for Crowley to offer his own, then shook it in a businesslike manner far beyond his years. He stood, jerked his head toward the door for the others to follow. On their way out, they each tossed out a chipper farewell, which Crowley accepted graciously as he waved them out, watched them until they disappeared at the end of the hallway, and then locked the door behind them.
“Better find the other half, then,” he mumbled to himself, reaching to grab a pad of paper from a nearby table, and then he set to work.
On Friday afternoon, Asaph saw the children off, personally ensuring that they were all present and accounted for under the care of his most trusted friend and her awkward but well-meaning girlfriend. The campground that he’d reserved for them was only a couple hours away, so they had opted to take Newt’s car, clunker that it was, because they all felt fairly confident it could survive the trip. Actually, between the kids, Newt and Anathema, and Asaph, they averaged about a 70% confidence in the car’s ability to survive the trip, but it was good enough.
Newt drove, which left Anathema free to track Asaph’s location on her phone – “We’re best friends,” she attempted to explain to the kids, who were horrified at the concept of anyone voluntarily allowing another person to track their every movement, and then she added, “It’s for my peace of mind. You know how he is,” and they nodded, because they did know.
They drove toward the campground for a while, just in case Asaph chose to check Anathema’s location, as well, and to give him a head start so he wouldn’t catch on to being followed. After about an hour, Anathema turned her tracking data off – “He’ll just assume I’ve got no reception out in the woods,” she said – and they headed north, sticking close to his trail, but not too close.
In a brief, rare moment of quiet in the car, Adam whispered, “Oh, shit,” and all eyes turned to him. Anathema politely cleared her throat to remind Newt to look at the road, and then most eyes were on Adam. “It’s fine,” he clarified, “I just forgot to text Anthony where we’re going.”
Glancing at her phone, Anathema said, “Well, you’re in luck, because it looks like our dear friend has reached his destination, wherever that may be.” She turned the screen toward Adam to show him the address, which he quickly sent to the vampire.
The children spent much of the car ride attempting to explain to Anathema and Newt exactly what was going on. Convincing them to skip out on the camping trip had been no trouble at all; neither of them were particularly keen on camping, and as soon as Adam said it would help Asaph, they were on board. Now that they were actually going there, though, it became a necessity to let them in on the whole story.
They took it surprisingly in stride, Newt especially surprisingly; there was no disbelief or horror to be found between the two of them, only curiosity and confusion. The kids explained and explained as much as they could, answering questions patiently, until eventually Anathema sat back in her seat, her arms crossed, and said, “Huh. Everything makes so much more sense now,” and that was that.
Anathema was fascinated by the whole thing, for which Adam was thankful, because he got a bit bored being surrounded by scared adults all the time. It was nice to have one who understood and appreciated just how fun it all was.
“Just to be clear,” Newt said tentatively, “this is all very much in mortal danger territory, yeah?”
“Oh, yes,” Adam answered, sounding thrilled about it.
Newt nodded her head thoughtfully, clutching the steering wheel with white knuckles. “Okay, cool,” she replied, only a hint of a tremor in her calm voice. “Just checking.”
When they arrived at the place they had tracked Asaph’s phone to, it was an underwhelming sight: a big, gray, rectangular building with no remarkable features. They saw the librarian’s car, far enough away to be inconspicuous, and parked nearby before convening to discuss their plan of action. The discussion was rather fruitless.
“Adam,” Wensley asked, as they gathered in a sort of huddle, “do we have a plan, here?”
Adam shrugged, which the others took immediately as a bad sign. “The plan was to be here,” he said, “remember?”
“I remember Anthony saying it was half a plan,” Pepper corrected him.
“Yeah, well, better hope Anthony came up with the other half,” Adam replied, a bit snippish. “Don’t know why I have to do all the work.”
As if on cue, a smooth, dark voice came sidling into the conversation. “Yeah, sorry I’m late,” Crowley interjected, insinuating himself into the circle. “I did actually come up with the rest of your plan, for the record.”
Anathema seemed visibly relieved to see him, which made Crowley’s skin itch a little bit. “Hi,” he said with an awkward wave of his hand. “How’s it going.”
“Fantastic,” Anathema answered earnestly. “You?”
Crowley offered a sardonic smile and muttered, “Peachy.”
Suddenly, Adam smacked himself on the forehead, exclaiming, “I knew I forgot something important!” He turned to Anathema and Newt with a pained, apologetic expression, and spoke slowly. “Anthony is a friend, he’s on our side, but he’s also a vampire. Don’t worry about it.”
“Alright, okay, fine, cool,” Newt stammered, her voice rising in pitch. “That’s awesome.”
“That’s awesome,” Anathema repeated, but she was entirely sincere about it. Then she paused a moment, looked at Crowley, narrowed her eyes. “Wait, are you and Asaph an item, or no? That affects my opinion on the vampire thing.”
Crowley squeaked a bit, a reflex his mind and body had developed to make up for the fact that he couldn’t blush, on account of not having any blood. “No,” he said, his voice strained. “Can we talk about this after we save the idiot? Or possibly not even then?”
“Sure, sure, sure,” Anathema agreed, nodding quickly. “So what’s this plan, then?”
Asaph was safely stowed between some crates in the back of the warehouse, right where he’d positioned himself to get a full view of the goings-on, and hopefully the element of surprise. He’d been there since before the – cult, he’d say, it was definitely a cult, and he’d arrived and hidden himself before they got there and began their proceedings.
Their proceedings, as it turned out, were sickeningly boring, and Asaph found himself nearly falling asleep several times while waiting for the opportune moment to thwart them. He figured he had the entire thing in the bag, really, what with the children being far away so that the cult couldn’t kill Adam to complete the ritual, but he still needed the right timing in order to complete the counterritual to prevent them trying again.
He didn’t think to question the fact that the cult members were not at all concerned about their missing slayer sacrifice. They tossed around casual conversation about the sacrifice as a part of the ritual, but none seemed to wonder where the slayer was or how they could capture him in time.
An indeterminate amount of time later, the show really got underway, and Asaph prepared himself to time the incantation perfectly. The ritual consisted of a series of steps, beginning with drawing the circle and ending with the sacrifice; the circle had gone down as soon as the cult arrived on the premises, and they’d been killing time since then, waiting for the correct moment to continue with their other offerings.
Around the edges of the spell circle were placed several bloody hunks of raw meat, and at the center lay a sharp dagger with a blade of volcanic stone. Asaph watched impatiently from his hiding spot, his legs beginning to cramp, trying to suppress his urge to retch at the stench of the meat. It was all very unglamorous, he thought, and then he chastised himself for thinking about glamor at a time like this, and then he perked his head up at the sound of someone getting into position for the ritual. This was his time to shine.
Asaph waited until the perfect moment, until the man, presumably the cult leader, took a breath to begin reciting the spell, and then he jumped out. He had meant to get right to the point of it, not wanting to waste time with any theatrics, but it turned out that emerging from his spot wasn’t quite enough to grab the cult’s attention from their big ritual, the fruits of all their efforts, so he thought quick on his feet.
“Not so fast,” he declared confidently, and then closed his eyes, somehow managing to feel embarrassed even in these extreme circumstances. Well, all eyes were on him now, just as he’d wanted.
The thing was, though, that even beyond the fact that he’d made a fool of himself, and the fact that they were trying to bring about the end of the world, the way these men were looking at him was unsettling. Almost predatory. He gulped in fear, trying not to tremble too visibly, and then one of the men spoke.
“Would you look at that, boys?” It was the man standing furthest from where Asaph was frozen, the one who appeared to be in charge of the whole production. He was big, tall and wide and with a voice that called lumberjacks to mind. “The King will love this one.”
One of the closer men sneered at him, appraising him like a troublesome piece of livestock. “Really, Aaron? He looks like a fucking community theater director. But somehow even worse dressed.”
“The King doesn’t care how his meal is dressed, Jason,” snapped the big one, Aaron. “He’s got meat on his bones, that’s what matters.”
Asaph cleared his throat politely, taking a tentative step forward. “Er, excuse me, gentlemen, might I inquire, erm – what are you talking about?”
The one called Aaron laughed at him, a cold, dismissive laugh, like he was a child, and gave a pointed look to the two men standing closest to Asaph, Jason and some other large man. They looked blankly back at him for a moment before gathering their wits and swiftly grabbing the librarian, each grabbing one of his arms and handling him like he weighed nothing. Asaph tried his damnedest to fight them off, and he wasn’t entirely ineffective – he smugly thought some of his kicks landed hard enough to bruise – but his struggle was dimmed when he felt a sharp slice against his arm. Turning his head, he saw that the man on his right, Jason, was holding a large knife, now covered in Asaph’s blood, and his arm was bleeding profusely.
“Oops,” said Jason, sounding sheepish. “Just meant to threaten him, but it’s hard with him kicking like that. Sorry, Nick.” The other man, presumably Nick, sighed and shook his head, refusing to dignify his counterpart’s stupidity with an answer. They brought him, still struggling weakly, to the altar where their leader stood, and forced him to his knees.
The man looked even bigger from this point of view, and he chuckled again. “Don’t worry,” he said in a sickly sweet tone. “We’re just discussing how we’re going to offer you to our Father the King to complete the ritual and burn this filthy planet to the ground.”
Asaph blinked in confusion. “Sorry, what? But... you need the slayer. He’s not here.” He didn’t know why he was indulging these men in any kind of conversation, but his brain wasn’t operating on higher levels at that moment, it was simply trying to understand.
“Shocker,” one of the other men interjected, his voice full of the threat of a yawn. “He’s read Marquez.”
“All the better for us, then,” Aaron said, grinning down at his captive like a bird of prey. He leaned down, uncomfortably close to Asaph’s face, to explain. “Marquez is… unreliable at best. All that flowery language, and then he didn’t bother to get a proper translator. Amateur stuff, really.”
Even through the thick haze of his fear and anger, Asaph managed to kick himself internally for not springing for the original Spanish text. He had gotten all his information on this cult and their ritual from a translation of a transcription of an oral tradition passed down through centuries; it was no surprise the book had gotten at least one bit wrong.
“So, er, what do you need, then? Why me?” Asaph asked cautiously, looking around him. The room was mostly empty, nothing he could use to escape except the knife in the center of the circle, or the one the other man was carrying; he was stuck. He was stuck, and he was bleeding, and he was being held down on his knees by two large men who were not very sensitive to his delicate constitution. Not to mention he was fairly sure the answer to his question was that any human sacrifice would do, and he'd willingly put himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Aaron opened his mouth to reply, but he was cut off by the sound of the door on the opposite wall opening and several people charging in. They were loud and uncoordinated, and everybody in the room whipped their heads around immediately to look at them. The newcomers froze, and nobody spoke, so the only sound in the room was a long, exasperated groan from the librarian as he registered the presence of the children, Anathema and Newt, and most surprisingly, Crowley.
Crowley, who was looking right at him with wide and fearful eyes, staring first at his bleeding arm, and then intently at his face. Crowley, whose gaze Asaph met with the same fear, the same underlying relief at seeing him, and a strong undercurrent of rage. Crowley, who couldn’t, couldn’t, could not be here, and yet somehow Asaph felt he was the only other person in the world, for a moment.
One of the cult members, a sniveling, weaselly man, turned back to look at his leader where he stood on the altar. “We weren’t expecting anybody else, were we?”
“No, I don’t believe we were,” Aaron said irritably. “I think it would be in everybody’s best interest if those of us not currently occupied put some effort into getting rid of them, boys.”
[outkast voice] i'm sorry my readers (ooh) / i am for real / never meant to write a cliffhanger / i apologize for this chapter
jokes aside i don't really think i need to tell y'all that there's gonna be a happy ending so like. don't worry. it'll be okay. eventually. and i'm churning out these chapters like salted sweet cream butter so you won't have to wait long.
Chapter 15: in which our heroes earn their heroic title
There were only three members of the cult who were not engaged in holding Asaph down or performing the ritual. It took them a moment to pick up on the hint, until Aaron hissed, “Greg, Aubrey, Chance, that means you,” and then after another moment of blank stares, “Fucking go get them, idiots,” and then the three men began advancing on their new visitors. It was clear that Aaron was not only the ringleader, but also most likely the only competent one of the bunch, which might have been reassuring under other circumstances.
Adam turned to his friends and whispered, “You ready?”
They nodded confidently, and Newt and Anathema stared with wide eyes. “Wait, you guys are gonna fight them? Physically?” Anathema’s eyebrows shot up as she looked back and forth between the children and the three men who were getting closer by the second. “What can we do?”
“Stay out of the way,” Crowley said, before Adam could reply. “Don’t do anything.”
Newt was perfectly happy to listen to the vampire’s command, but Anathema shook her head. “We have to help.”
Crowley clenched his jaw. “Fine. Then just… wait until I tell you, okay? I’ll tell you what needs to be done, but in the meantime, stay out of the way.”
Looking from Asaph to the group of intruders, Aaron’s face lit up with a sadistic glee. “Are these your friends? Have they come to save you?” The librarian simply scowled, stubbornly facing forward. “I’m going to have so much fun sacrificing you to our Father while they watch.”
A series of emotions flitted across Crowley’s face in rapid succession, from confusion to distress to understanding to horror to anger, and the cult leader happened to catch the whole process, laughing at the vampire’s expression. “We’re going to kill him either way,” Aaron declared, gesturing toward Asaph struggling in his lackeys' clutches, the comment pointedly directed at Crowley, “but if you get in our way, if you interfere with our plans, there will be a painful death waiting for you, as well.”
The threat set off a switch inside Crowley, and he squared his shoulders, flared his nostrils. “We’re going to stop you either way,” he said in a mockery of the other man’s tone, “but if you hurt him, I personally will kill every single one of you.”
Without further ado, he turned to the kids, jerked his head toward the three advancing men, and said “You got them?” When they nodded back at him, he shot over his shoulder to the two women behind him, “Go find some cover, please.”
Newt and Anathema scurried in the most dignified manner possible to situate themselves near the crates where Asaph had been hiding. Satisfied that the rest of his team had their tasks under control, Crowley dashed over near the spell circle in an attempt to incapacitate the men performing the ritual.
Four of them were situated around the circle, one holding a large book, all chanting in Latin, with burning candles interspaced between them, which Crowley thought was rather passé. He eyed the dagger in the center of the circle but chose to leave it for the moment. The raw meat offerings were truly foul-smelling, but Crowley had the advantage of not needing to breathe.
He had a few other advantages, as well, namely that they couldn’t kill Asaph until the end of the ritual, which bought him some time, and that they couldn’t interrupt the ritual to fight him off. They had to complete the ritual from start to finish without stopping, and it seemed the four of them had received strict instructions not to allow any distractions. Knowing this, Crowley caught the nearest man across the knees, sweeping his legs out from under him, and swiftly landed a lead hook under the next man’s jaw.
Taking a moment to glance at the children from the corner of his eye, Crowley saw that they had easily taken down the three other men and were now setting about tying them up with a hose pulled from the wall. He grinned at their ingenuity for just a second before turning back to his own task. He was just attempting to determine the most effective way to take out the remaining men, and then Asaph spoke for the first time since the group had arrived.
“Anathema!” he shouted rather excitedly, grabbing her attention from across the room. “Grad school, Lottie’s bachelorette party!”
Newt and Anathema both stood frozen and confused, and then it clicked for Anathema. She smiled like a snake, gave a small jump of a victory dance, and quickly calculated a plan in her head. Utterly lost and scrambling, Newt asked frantically, “What? What does that mean?”
Her smile widening, Anathema turned and opened one of the crates to find that their cargo was padded with old newspapers, which she pulled out and shoved into Newt’s arms. “Burn everything,” she whispered, gesturing to the circle before moving toward it. Newt nodded, following her.
Crowley managed to knock out another man fairly easily, then found himself blocked off from the one who held the book. The three cult members who still stood above the circle on the altar, the leader and the two holding Asaph, moved down toward the spell circle with a purpose, dragging the librarian with them. Whether they intended to complete the ritual or join the fight or something else entirely, they were interrupted by a scream.
It was the last one of the chanting men, the one with the book, and he was shrieking and flailing his limbs as Anathema snickered behind him, having set his robe on fire. The man threw the robe to the ground, dropping the book in the process, and Anathema quickly grabbed it and tossed it into the growing fire. Newt caught on quickly, adding the newspapers to the pile for kindling and assisting Anathema in grabbing the meat from the circle and burning that, as well.
Once everything that could be burned was burning, Anathema swooped in and grabbed the dagger from the center of the circle. She turned it over admiringly in her hands and turned to show it off to Newt while the others continued fighting the remaining cult members. It was one slayer, one vampire, and three teenagers against a few regular adult men, and they made short order of incapacitating all but two of them.
The two holding Asaph didn’t move, didn’t fight or protect, only stood and kept the librarian solidly in their hold. He never stopped trying to push off their hands, trying to escape their grasps, but they were much stronger than him, and all his thrashing managed to do was tire him out, or so they thought. What they didn’t see, or didn’t acknowledge for all its significance, was that the librarian managed to spatter some of his blood directly into the spell circle, thanks to his closer vantage point.
Crowley saw it, however, and he knew exactly what it meant. His mind flashed back to their night of research in the library, the moment he’d found the answer, Asaph’s cheerful disbelief; A little Latin, a drop of blood, that’s it?
“That’s it,” the vampire muttered to himself.
The two men looked at each other over the librarian’s head, both looking panicked, apparently realizing they were in trouble. Jason was still holding the knife he'd accidentally cut Asaph with, and Crowley saw a flicker of indecision cross his face before he hauled Asaph to his feet and pressed the knife against his throat.
“What are you doing?” the other man hissed, adjusting his hold on the librarian's other arm.
Jason looked truly desperate; sweat was beading on his forehead, he was pale and shaking. Without leadership, without instruction, he looked significantly more afraid than the man whose throat was under his knife. “The best we can do is still kill him, right?” Jason asked his partner. “Nick? Isn’t that our best chance?”
“I don’t know,” Nick answered, distraught. “Would it even work? Everything’s all fucked, and I don’t even know what…”
He continued talking, but his voice was background noise to Crowley, who had been staring at Asaph, open-mouthed and terrified, and had only just snapped out of it. He seized the opportunity of the men dithering over what to do, holding out a hand toward Anathema without turning to look at her. She silently placed the ritual dagger in his palm, and he nodded his thanks.
It was easy, then, for Crowley to use his vampire speed and stealth to circle behind the men who were deeply engrossed in arguing with each other. Prioritizing getting the knife away from Asaph’s throat, Crowley took care of Jason first, then Nick. In a Herculean feat of willpower, he held back from killing them, opting instead for very non-fatal stab wounds that forced the men to drop to the ground and release the librarian.
Crowley caught him halfway through his fall and held him, unheeding of the man’s blood soaking his shirt. Asaph was weak and pale, his eyes threatening to drift shut; Crowley took only a second to curse himself internally for allowing Asaph to get hurt, then quickly realized that meant it fell to him to finish the job. He knelt within the circle, gently handling the librarian to prevent any further injury, and finally spoke the words to complete the counterritual.
“Cladem per sanguinem, exitium per verbum,” he muttered under his breath, the words coming out rough and strangled. “Non intrabitis animis hominum, tenetur in mundi obscura, non nocere hominibus.”
There was no grand spectacle, not even the slightest appearance of the King or whatever it was, the demonic force had caused this all to happen, but Crowley felt the evil presence disappear and he knew it was over. He breathed a sigh of relief, clutching Asaph tight to his chest like a life raft.
“Hey, bud?” Anathema’s voice cut in, sharply wrenching him out of his moment; he looked up at her prepared to be annoyed, and then froze. “We should get out of here,” she said pointedly.
Crowley looked around at the cult members on the ground, some unconscious, some groaning in pain and clutching at their injuries; then he looked to the growing wall of flames, then to the children. They seemed mostly unfazed, likely faring the best out of everybody present, but Crowley's insides still squeezed with a harsh protective instinct, an immediate need to get them far away from the danger, now that they had done their part.
“Yeah,” the vampire agreed hastily, rising to his feet. “Yeah, we should definitely get out of here.”
The group made a quick escape, retreating to the alley where they had left their cars, far enough from the burning building to be safe. Crowley and Adam, being the two with beyond human strength and speed, ran back into the warehouse several times to save the cult members. They dropped the men outside the building, made certain they were bound and restrained, and had Newt call 911 from a payphone to alert the authorities to the fire and the injured men.
Pepper had advocated for leaving the men to fend for themselves, citing the fact that they had tried to kill her and all her friends, and in her book, that made it not worth saving their lives. Asaph weakly interjected that they were in the business of saving lives, murderous cult antics notwithstanding, and Pepper argued fiercely with him for a few minutes, which mostly consisted of her speaking very quickly and him being unable to get a word in edgewise. Brian supported Pepper, but they lost the argument on account of the fact that by the time they’d finished shouting, Newt had already finished her phone call.
When all that was said and done, Crowley turned his attention back to Asaph, who was lying in the alley trying his level best not to bleed out. Crowley felt a rather silly surge of pride at the librarian's resilience, at the fact that he was awake and relatively alert in spite of losing a staggering amount of blood. Anathema had enough medical knowledge to roll his sleeve up to access the wound and then apply pressure to it and wait for Crowley to get back from saving people from a burning building.
He approached slowly, wary of the fact that the librarian had very sincerely threatened his life the last time they spoke. Crowley was fairly sure Asaph was too weak to attack him at the moment, and marginally convinced that Asaph no longer had the desire to kill him, but the situation still called for caution. When Asaph looked up at him, though, Crowley nearly melted; his eyes were wide and brimming with tears, with unspoken words, and he opened his mouth to say something, but Crowley was on the ground at his side in an instant.
"No need," he said softly, shaking his head. "Save your strength."
Asaph bit his lip, took one deep, labored breath, and gave a feeble smile. It lasted about a second before his jaw dropped, his eyebrows shooting up and his breath catching in his throat, as he watched the vampire quickly and efficiently remove his own shirt.
Operating with laser focus and a businesslike demeanor, Crowley seemed oblivious to the effect he was having on the librarian. The front of his shirt was already covered in Asaph's blood, so he chalked it up as collateral damage and tore it into strips of fabric to tie over the wound. He was wearing an undershirt, a tight cotton tee, and Asaph's eyes were magnetically drawn to the ripple of his muscles as he worked, bandaging the librarian's arm with professional precision despite the very unprofessional circumstances.
"That should keep you until we get home so I can fix you up properly," Crowley said gently when he finished his work. "I was thinking you could come with me, if you want. In my car, I mean."
Asaph swallowed nervously, but gave a shaky nod of his head. "Anathema," he croaked, his voice rusty from disuse and physical strain as well as a hint of breathlessness, thanks to Crowley. “Darling, w'you… can you –," he cut himself off with a weak groan.
Anathema only put a hand on his uninjured arm and said, "Hey, of course I will," before grabbing his car keys from the front pocket of his jacket and turning to face Newt. “You know the way home, right? You’ll be okay getting back if I take his car?”
“Yeah, it’s all good,” Newt said, a slight flush rising to her cheeks. She hesitated for an awkward moment before adding, “Rather not be by myself, though.”
Practically jumping out of his skin, Adam shot his hand up in the air. “I’ll go with you!” he shouted, beaming. Seeing everybody’s questioning looks at his enthusiasm, he shrugged and added, “She has a cool car. I like the adrenaline rush of knowing I could die at any moment.”
Although Newt looked slightly horrified, and Anathema rolled her eyes at Adam, the issue of who would go in which car worked itself out rather quickly after that. Brian found Adam’s argument compelling, and opted to ride with Newt as well; Wensleydale and Pepper exchanged a look, shook their heads, and decided to go with Anathema. Crowley and Asaph were in a bubble of their own for much of the conversation, but when they realized that the group had arrived at the conclusion that the two of them would be in a car alone, they instantly snapped to attention.
"No," Crowley said hastily before looking down at Asaph with a pained expression. "I mean – just, I mean… no.
Anathema raised an eyebrow at him, laughing. “No need to be scared of him,” she said with a wave toward the librarian. “Worst he’ll do is try to jump your bones while you’re driving.”
Asaph’s waning supply of blood somehow found the strength to flood his cheeks as he watched Crowley choke on his own breath. “Really, my dear,” he croaked disapprovingly at Anathema, who simply shrugged and gave him a look that challenged him to say anything else.
“So, alright then,” Crowley said as soon as he could speak again, choosing to ignore Anathema's comment, because his brain frankly couldn't process it, much less respond to it, without short circuiting. “Er, we'll take the girl."
Pepper scoffed indignantly, putting her hands on her hips. "The girl will decide for herself, Dracula," she snapped. "I'll go with you if you can tell me what my name is."
Groaning in exasperation, the librarian rubbed his temples and closed his eyes. "Pepper, please," he sighed. "You know I have nothing but respect for your attitude, but now may not be the time."
"Well, now you told him my name, it doesn't matter, I guess," Pepper grumbled. "Fine, I'll go in the old man car."
Crowley swiftly engaged himself in lifting Asaph to lie down in the backseat of his car, partly because it needed to be done, but also to occupy himself to avoid getting defensive about being called an old man. When the watcher was safely in place, as comfortable as he could get, Crowley opened the passenger door and shot Pepper an ingratiating smile. She climbed in without meeting his eyes, still looking affronted.
Crowley took a moment with Newt and Anathema to ensure that they were all on the same page, headed to the same location, and not in need of any immediate assistance, and then they were off. He turned to Pepper as he pulled out of the alley, muttering, "I knew your name, you know."
"Sure," she deadpanned. "Couldn’t be bothered to use it, though, not while you’re busy with whatever this is.” She waved her hand between Crowley and Asaph dismissively. "Really, it's uncanny how you two can be so desperate to make out, and still you're afraid to be alone together."
“Oh, Christ, I should have asked for Brian,” Crowley lamented, half to himself.
“Wouldn’t have been better,” came a quiet reply from the backseat. Crowley turned his head to take a look at Asaph, who added, “He’d have asked you to stop for ice cream at least twice by this point.”
Pepper gave a smug, self-satisfied smile and folded her arms across her chest. She seemed completely unaffected by the entire ordeal they'd all just survived; she wasn't running out of steam anytime soon. “How long is this drive, exactly?" Pepper glanced at her watch. "I can drop all my truth bombs right now, or I can ration them to last the whole time. Your choice.”
Gritting his teeth, Crowley took a deep breath. “It’s been an extremely long day, kid,” he said irritably, then softened his tone and corrected himself, “Pepper. I know you mean well, but could we just… save it for later.”
Asaph nodded in agreement, despite the fact that neither Pepper nor Crowley could see him. “Yes, please,” he mumbled, exhausted. “Much, much later.”
Humming thoughtfully, stroking her chin, Pepper made them wait a full minute before she said, “Only if you give me the aux cord,” and that was that. The rest of the ride was not exactly quiet, and Crowley learned rather more than he would have preferred to know about Billie Eilish, but Pepper didn’t beat him over the head with any more brutal honesty, so he was willing to take it.
When they pulled into the dark school parking lot, they paused to regroup. Newt looked just as harrowed as Crowley felt, and it wasn't difficult to understand why as soon as he saw Adam and Brian, who were engaged in a duel using large sticks they picked up in the parking lot. Wensleydale had, apparently, not stopped talking the entire ride, but Anathema didn’t seem to mind. Not wanting to waste more time than necessary, Crowley insisted on carrying Asaph into the library, ignoring the snickers it got him from the children, and struggling to ignore the comments from Anathema as they made their way inside.
“They call that a bridal carry, kids,” she explained in a mockery of her lecturing voice. Crowley and Asaph were ten feet ahead of the rest of the group, and she raised her voice just enough that they could hear her. “Note the big, strong man showing off how big and strong he is. Note the bride, also sometimes referred to as the damsel or the princess, gazing adoringly at him.”
“M’gonna kill you,” Asaph threatened feebly. “You can’t even see my face.”
Anathema giggled. "I know you," she said brightly, "and you're definitely gazing."
Heaving a long-suffering sigh, very resolutely not looking down at the watcher's face, Crowley led the group into the library office, laying Asaph down on the table and setting to work immediately. As soon as he untied his improvised cloth bandages from Asaph’s arm, the children let out a collective groan, Anathema gasped, and Newt stumbled backward, looking as if she might be sick.
Crowley glared at them all, shaking his head in annoyance. “It’s not that bad,” he said sharply. “Just needs some stitches. If you can’t handle blood, you don’t have to watch.”
Newt wrapped her fingers around Anathema’s wrist, making meaningful eye contact for a moment, and Anathema gave her a smile without hesitation. “We’re gonna get out of here,” she said slowly, taking a step forward and lowering herself to come face-to-face with Asaph. “You’ll be alright?”
He only blinked at her, but she understood. She leaned forward to press a kiss to his forehead. “I’ll check on you tomorrow,” she promised as she stood to leave. “Goodnight, everyone. Thank you all for a truly horrifying experience. See you around.” With that, Anathema and Newt were gone.
Crowley watched them leave, then turned back to Asaph, only to find that he was asleep. It wasn’t ideal, given the injury, but based on Crowley's knowledge and experience, he was almost positive the librarian had passed out from exhaustion rather than blood loss. Besides, he had just been about to ask Asaph if he’d like to be sedated while Crowley put in his stitches, and now he didn’t have to, so he set to work.
The children stared awestruck as Crowley dug out his first aid supplies and began sterilizing the wound. After a short time, unable to contain his curiosity any longer, Wensley piped up, “How do you know how to do all this?”
“I have a few medical degrees,” the vampire tossed out casually.
All four kids showed varying levels of shock, but Brian balked the most, blurting out, “What the fuck is your life?”
“You want to know everything?” Crowley asked with a small, wistful smile.
Brian nodded frantically, his eyes wide. “It’s killing me.”
“It’s not fun or happy,” Crowley warned darkly.
“Life isn’t always happy,” Adam interjected. “We know that.”
Crowley pursed his lips, looking at the children’s faces, seeing their resolute and determined expressions, their fearlessness and glowing pride. “Alright,” he said at length, rubbing his hands together. “We’ll be here awhile anyway. Let me tell you a story.”
this is mostly filler and comedic relief to cleanse your palate after the storm and before the dark and heavy crowlore coming at you in the next chapter
Chapter 17: in which the truth comes out at last
"I was born in 1318," Crowley began, and the four children dropped their jaws, the gears quickly turning in their heads. "That means I'm seven hundred years old," he added, to save them the trouble, "and if that's a shock to you, you might not be ready for the rest of the story."
"No, please, we want to know," Pepper objected with a whine. "We'll be good, we'll be quiet. Promise."
Crowley laughed, a soft sound of fondness and resignation. "I find it difficult to believe that, but okay, I’ll tell you." He took a deep breath, preparing to delve into his past, and then tried again. "So, born in 1318. We lived on a farm, not a big one or anything, but good enough. I was always my father’s favorite. Was the youngest, and he thought I was a miracle child, born right when things started to really recover from the famine. I brought the harvest, he said. They used to say I looked just like him, only he was a head taller than me, even when I grew up. I was his miniature, his good luck charm."
"That's sweet," Wensley interjected quietly.
Crowley's expression darkened instantly, as if a thick summer rain cloud had drifted overhead. "No, it isn't," he said bitterly, pausing the work of his hands for a long moment to avoid carelessly hurting the librarian in his haze of emotion. He took a beat, smoothed out the lines of his face, evened his tone, and forged onward.
“Dad was bitten – turned – one night in town when he had too much to drink. Wasn’t careful. Didn’t come home, and none of us really cared all that much, but then it was a few days and we started to worry. Just me and two sisters and our mother, everyone else had died from the plague. I was the man of the house, then, and I didn’t – didn’t handle it all that well.
“Was a week later when Dad turned up again. Middle of the night. Killed the girls, my mother and Catherine and Edith, ripped their throats out while I was still asleep, then came for me and – changed me. It all happened very quickly, but it hurt. It burned.
“After that, it was a lot of death and blood, mostly. I wanted – I didn’t – I was…” Crowley stopped, his voice hoarse, his eyes becoming misty. He blinked several times, hard and slow, cleared his throat, swallowed back whatever emotion was threatening to flow out of him. He worked on the watcher’s arm in silence for a few moments, the kids not daring to say anything, before he mustered up the strength to continue.
“It doesn’t make any of it better. It doesn’t make any of it okay,” he said, sounding grim but no longer like he was on the verge of breaking. “I wanted to make him proud of me. He told me I was too young to know what was best, that all I had to do was stay with him, and I just – I followed orders. For a long time, all I knew how to do was follow orders, and they were always horrible orders, and I never questioned him. If Dad wanted someone dead, I would kill them, that was just the way it was.
“He was… a sadistic bastard, too. Thought it was funny to have a sort of – a signature, whenever we – I killed someone. He wanted to be feared and unique and unaccountable, above all else; he wanted his genius to be known by my name. So I did the dirty work, for over four hundred years. There was a time in there, a few years where he decided it wasn’t fun to kill at random anymore, so we tracked down the slayer. But – but we didn’t kill her. He didn’t want to kill her. He wanted to terrorize her, and we did that for a while, before things went back to normal.”
Stopping again, Crowley took a hard look at each of the kids in succession, studying their faces for signs that he should stop. They appeared somber, but not distressed, all watching him intently with wide, unblinking eyes, their lips pressed together in a conscious effort not to let any emotions show on their faces. Crowley caught their eyes, then he murmured, “You guys okay? I don't have to… I can stop, if you want."
There was a faint chorus of "No" and "we're fine" and "don't stop" as the children shook their heads vehemently, assuring the vampire that they wished to hear the whole story. He raised his eyebrows, but nodded and pressed forward.
"So it was… just a lot of that, you know, for a while, and then – we were in France. Wrong place, wrong time. You always hear that the stake to the heart is the only way to kill a vampire, but it turns out a guillotine does the job nicely, and it didn't take a lot to get on Robespierre's bad side.
"I've always thought it was funny, really, that after everything my father did, all it took to get rid of him was one pissed off Frenchman. I thought he was indestructible, and then… he was just gone. And I didn't know what to do. Didn't even speak French, had no money, didn't have a single friend in the world. Barely knew my own name, I was so lost.
"Hid out in the sewers for a few years, left at night to steal blood from butcher shops, like a fucking… like a rat, I lived. All alone for so long. Eventually figured out how to navigate the city, found the right spots to go, taught myself to read French – much easier than speaking it, mind. Introduced myself to some highbrow Enlightenment ideas, Kant and Voltaire and Montesqieu – you have no idea what I'm talking about. That's fine.
"The point is. The point is I spent those years building my humanity and morality from the ground up, and I learned a lot of things about the world. Most importantly, I learned that there are a lot of people like my father in the world – maybe not with the body count, but the mindset – and not a lot of people to stop them. So that's when I decided what kind of person I was. I wanted to be the person who stopped them.
"That time with the slayer, though, that was the worst… the most horrid, awful thing I ever did wasn't killing or maiming anyone, it was the way we… ruined that girl. Never laid a finger on her, just made her life a living hell, drove her insane. Nobody deserves that, especially not an innocent – a fucking kid. I never got over it. Never will. Made it my business a while ago to protect the slayer, and that's how I got here."
Crowley set down his instruments in order to give the children a helpless shrug, a guilty frown. With his hands free – and no longer delicately engaged in patching a wound – he left himself completely open for Adam to barrel into him, the teenager leaning his entire body weight down on Crowley's shoulders as he wrapped his arms tight around the vampire's neck. Thankful that he was sitting down, Crowley made a small noise of surprise before awkwardly reaching to pat Adam on the back; before he knew it, there were four teenagers crowding him in the tightest, warmest embrace he'd ever felt.
When they finally released him, Crowley surreptitiously blinked back a few tears and aimed for a lightly teasing tone. "S’good thing I don't have to breathe," he said, his voice a bit thicker than he would have preferred. “Why don’t you lot head on home and get some sleep. You saved the world, you’ve earned it.”
At the mention of sleep, the children's eyes lit up, their bodies sagging as if only now realizing how tired they were. Brian yawned; Pepper rubbed her eyes; Adam looked at his friends and gestured to the door.
"You guys can spend the night at my house," he offered tiredly. "Less questions. Less walking, too." The others nodded and hummed in agreement before turning back to Crowley.
"Thanks, Anthony," Adam mumbled. "Y'know, for everything. The whole… everything."
Crowley gave the slayer a salute and waved the kids out the door. They left, sticking close together, and he turned back to the table to find Asaph staring at him, silent and unwavering, with an unfathomable look in his eyes. He let a flicker of surprise cross his face, wondering how long the watcher had been awake, and then it was guilt, and then it was relief at the fact that he’d used local anesthesia to be safe, so Asaph wouldn’t be in pain.
"How are you feeling?" Crowley asked softly, procuring a bottle of water from his first aid bag. He unscrewed the cap and held it out tentatively for the librarian, adding, "You lost a lot of blood."
Asaph took the bottle, propping himself up on his elbow to drink, never taking his eyes off of Crowley's face. He took his time in setting the bottle down, taking a breath to prepare to speak. "So… Dad was tall," he mumbled lamely, full of shame.
Crowley's eyes went wide for a moment, and then he nodded slowly. "How much of that did you hear?"
Frowning apologetically, Asaph shrugged as best he could in his position. "Pretty much all of it, I think."
"I'm sorry," Crowley said quickly. "I'm sorry, I thought you were asleep."
Asaph furrowed his brow, looking at the vampire with utter confusion. "Why would you be sorry? You've nothing to be sorry for. You saved my life."
"I had to," Crowley replied, as if it were obvious.
Crowley grimaced. "Don't do that," he said fiercely. "There was never a question."
"I questioned it," the librarian persisted. "I was so quick to believe those things about you, without a thought. I'm sorry."
"Don't mention it." Crowley turned away from him, staring intently at the adjacent wall. He had a distinct feeling his pulse would be pounding, if he were the type to have a pulse. "Your heart was in the right place."
Letting out a gentle laugh, Asaph rolled his eyes. "Maybe it was," he conceded, "but my head was all the way up my ass."
For a moment, Crowley laughed with him, and then he bit his lip anxiously, looking back to the librarian's face. "Would you want… will you come back to my flat? I don't mean – it's just, you really have lost a lot of blood and I don't think it's safe for you to be alone right now." He paused, then added hastily, "If you don't want to, I can call someone else. Anathema or – or someone else, I don't know, family or friends –,"
"Shut up," the librarian interrupted, placing a hand over Crowley's where it rested on the table, looking up and giving him a gentle smile. "Your place sounds lovely. Anywhere that I can sleep sounds lovely.”
Crowley cleared his throat nervously and mumbled a soft “Alright, then.”
Extending a hand, he helped Asaph to stand up off the table, allowing the watcher to lean heavily on him as they walked to the car. He was able to sit upright in the passenger seat, which Crowley considered a good sign, and then shuffle inside Crowley’s building with his support. When they reached his door, Asaph looked like he might collapse at any second, but Crowley was sure it was at least as much from exhaustion as from the injury.
Crowley considered offering to carry him again, then he thought he didn’t want to offend Asaph with the implication that he was weak, then he berated himself internally for not caring so much about the watcher’s dignity earlier, when there were people around, and then he berated himself for caring more about his dignity than his safety now. By the time he’d finished with that twisting trail of thought, they were in his bedroom and he was helping Asaph to lie in his bed.
“Do you want – that can’t be comfortable,” Crowley said sheepishly, waving a hand toward the librarian’s tweed slacks, his battered and bloody shirt. “I have some loungewear that would fit you.”
“Loungewear,” Asaph scoffed weakly. “Too cool for pajamas, are we?”
“Now that you mention it, yes,” Crowley replied. He didn’t feel the need to tell the librarian that when he slept, it was in a pair of boxer briefs and nothing else. As he spoke, he dug up an old tee and a pair of sweatshorts from his dresser and presented them to Asaph. “Take it or leave it.”
Examining the clothes, Asaph thought about it for rather a long time before looking up at Crowley and nodding his head. Crowley was confused at first, wondering why it was a difficult decision, until he realized that it would be difficult for the librarian to change without help. He shook his head, kicking himself for being so thoughtless.
“Gosh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” Crowley set the clothes down on the bed and took a seat, perched on the edge, giving Asaph a wide berth. “I can… listen, I’m. I’m a doctor, I can be wholly professional, if you want my help. Or I can leave and you can take as long as you need to figure it out by yourself. Whatever would make you comfortable.”
Asaph pressed his lips together in a tight line, taking a deep breath. “No, it’s alright, I’d… appreciate your help, yes. As a medical professional.”
Nodding, Crowley muttered a nearly inaudible, “Of course,” and inched closer to him. With slow, cautious movements, he helped the watcher to remove his shirt, carefully undoing each button before sliding it off his shoulders, shifting the cloth ever so delicately over the patch of gauze and tape on his bicep.
“Pity,” Asaph murmured pathetically. “I liked that shirt.”
Crowley let out a fraction of a laugh, more a breath than anything else, then cleared his mind entirely. He was still gentle, but once he had finished with the bits involving the right arm, he worked through getting Asaph out of his undershirt and socks much more quickly than he had done the shirt, not allowing his hands to linger anywhere along the way.
The watcher managed the button and the zipper of his trousers, thankfully, and Crowley efficiently pulled them off and helped him into the shorts without so much as looking at what he was doing. His fragile touches returned long enough to ease Asaph’s arm into the clean shirt, and then he stood, taking a large step away from the bed.
Crowley looked away from Asaph and down at the floor, and Asaph did the same in the opposite direction. “Thank you,” he mumbled, embarrassed but sincere.
“Yeah, of course,” Crowley mumbled in much the same tone, turning even further away from him, toward the bedroom door. “Erm, so, I’ll just. I’ll let you get some rest. But I’ll be here, if you need anything.”
Asaph smiled, a little quirk of his lips that Crowley didn’t see. “Goodnight, Crowley.”
“Night,” the vampire murmured.
Crowley left the door open behind him and headed to the living room. He might have tried to sleep, but something in his mind wouldn’t let him stop worrying about Asaph. He was fine, Crowley could hear him sleeping, the slow and even rhythm of his breaths, could even hear his heartbeat with how quiet the flat was, but it wasn’t good enough to quell the heavy ball of dread resting in his gut.
After about an hour and a half of lying restlessly on his sofa, Crowley gave up. He went into the bedroom and deposited himself in the armchair in the corner, grabbing a book along his way. He knew he wouldn’t be able to focus on it, and he hoped he would be able to fall asleep, but it was good to have nearby, so he didn’t feel like he was simply watching Asaph sleep.
Being in the same room with Asaph again, being able to see him and see that he was okay, Crowley felt something uncoil within his chest. He never quite reached the point of sleep, but he managed to stare at one page of his book for several hours, relaxed and contented as the watcher rested.
Chapter 18: in which the watcher becomes the watched-over
A solid nine hours passed before Asaph so much as stirred, and then he spent a few more hours drifting in and out of consciousness, Crowley tending to his every need. It seemed to Asaph that Crowley had been waiting his entire life for someone to take care of, because he was so attentive and eager to please that it made the librarian’s head spin. There was food, water, aspirin, entertainment; Crowley called Anathema to let her know Asaph was safe with him and called the school to ensure he got the next few days off.
On the whole, Asaph was thankful, but he didn’t quite know how to respond to all the attention. He felt it wasn't entirely necessary for him to be bedridden, but he was extremely comfortable, so he allowed it. Crowley was good enough not to hover constantly, allowing him some breathing space, but he was so desperate to help that Asaph almost felt bad anytime he didn’t want anything.
By mid-afternoon, Crowley had broken out his chess set and was soundly beating the librarian in a game when there was a knock at the door, firm but polite. Puzzled, Crowley strained his ears and heard the soft chatter of voices outside in the hall.
"It's the kids," he sighed, sounding defeated.
The watcher gave him a small smile of reassurance before replying, "You'd better answer it, before they break the door down."
Crowley gingerly moved the chess board aside so he wouldn't jostle it when he stood, then went to get the door. He tried to brace himself for whatever mood the children would be in, but it was difficult to know what to expect. As soon as he saw their beaming faces, though, it quickly became clear that they were going for painfully chipper today.
"Hi, Anthony," Adam chirped brightly, conspicuously looking over his shoulder into the flat. "Can we come in?"
Nodding, Crowley stepped aside and waved them in, then turned to face them again. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Pepper had her hands on her hips, which Crowley had learned was never a good sign, but Adam still looked cool and collected. "We need to talk to Az," he answered after a pause. "Ms. Device said he would be here."
Crowley cringed a bit. "He's not feeling his best," he said in his most hospitable tone. "Is it terribly important?"
"Yeah, it kind of is," Adam replied, his tone taking on a sharp edge that warned Crowley not to argue with him.
"Fine, sure. Just go easy on him, alright?" As Crowley spoke, he led the kids into his bedroom, giving Asaph an apologetic look. "Is it private? Do I need to leave?"
"No," Adam answered quickly. "No, I think you need to hear this, actually."
Crowley tensed, not knowing what to expect, and glanced sidelong at Asaph only to see the same trepidation in his face. Adam and unpredictable was never a good combination. "Go ahead, then. We're all ears."
Before the kids could get to the point of their visit, Brian interjected, "So we're just not gonna address the fact that Az is in Anthony's bed, then? That's just a thing we're accepting?"
“Don’t bother,” Pepper said, practically yawning. Her voice was low enough that she ostensibly could have been speaking only to Brian, but everyone in the room could hear when she muttered, “They have to do whatever they’re doing on their own time. If you bug them about it, they get all grumpy.”
Shooting the kids a look somewhere between a stern glare and an embarrassed plea, Crowley perched himself on the edge of the bed, crossing his ankles, folding his hands in his lap. “By all means, feel free to say what you came here to say.”
Adam nodded in a businesslike manner and addressed Asaph and Crowley together. “You lied to us,” he said bluntly. “You lied to us a lot. You kept a lot of things from us that we should have known.”
“Er, yes,” the librarian said sheepishly. “I am sorry about that, truly. There’s no excuse.”
“I know you were doing what you thought was best,” Adam assured him, and he relaxed slightly. “But we’re a team, you know. It didn’t go that well when we kept things from you,” – he shot a meaningful glance at Crowley – “and when you kept things from us, you almost died.”
“Actually, the whole world almost ended,” Wensley piped up.
With a gesture of agreement toward Wensley, Adam added, “Yeah, that too.” He took a moment to let his words sink in, and then looked at Asaph and Crowley with a wide open expression on his face, and finished in all earnest, “We have to trust each other.”
“Yes,” Asaph agreed, nodding somberly. He took a moment to look up at Crowley, inadvertently locking eyes with the vampire, who had been watching him intently throughout the conversation. “Yes, we do,” he repeated, almost a whisper, without blinking or averting his eyes from Crowley’s.
Adam cleared his throat loudly; Asaph whipped his head around to face forward, blushing furiously, as Crowley found something utterly fascinating on the floor to stare at. The slayer rolled his eyes, as did Pepper, and Brian made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat while Wensley simply grinned at them.
“Right, so,” Adam said, looking pointedly between the two of them. “We’re all on the same page regarding the lying thing, I think, so – we’re gonna get going. Let you two get on with whatever you two do.”
“We’ll see ourselves out,” Pepper added confidently when Crowley stood to show them to the door. She glared at him while the others moved to leave, waiting until he sat down again before she followed them, closing the bedroom door behind her.
Asaph blinked several times before he managed to gather his wits enough to speak. “Goodbye, then,” he called after them, loud enough to be heard. They replied with a chorus of “Bye” and “See you later” and one very loud “Glad you’re not dead,” and then they were gone.
There were a few moments of silence, which might have been blissful if Crowley and Asaph had not both been frozen awkwardly, trying to process everything. Before they could even remember to breathe, they heard the front door open and close again, the soft sounds of idle chatter, and they turned to each other, both puzzled, until a voice rang out from the living room.
“We’re coming in, so you better be decent,” Anathema announced, just before throwing the bedroom door open with dramatic flair.
The librarian relaxed, the tension flowing out of his body as Anathema climbed onto the bed beside him, leaning in to kiss both his cheeks. “Hello, dear,” he breathed with a sigh of relief.
While the two friends had their moment, Crowley waved awkwardly to Newt, indicating with a nod of his head that she was welcome to join them in sitting on the bed. She took the invitation, having a seat next to Anathema with her legs hanging off the edge, and smiled at Crowley in thanks. Anathema had already made herself at home, and she swung her legs up to rest in Newt’s lap.
“We won’t stay long,” she assured Crowley, although he seemed unfazed by the fact that his bedroom had become a party venue. “Just wanted to stop by and check in. And we brought food.” She turned to Newt, who wordlessly handed her a bag which she immediately emptied onto the bed. It was full of potato chips, fruit snacks, juice boxes, and prepackaged deli sandwiches, which Asaph regarded with something akin to wonder.
“That is a lot of food,” he said absently.
Anathema nodded, looking proud of herself. “I figured there probably wouldn’t be much here,” she explained, her gaze flitting to Crowley, “and we wanted to help.”
Suddenly, Crowley straightened his back and turned to examine Newt and Anathema cautiously, as if searching for something in their faces, but he didn’t find it. “Hey, are the two of you – are you alright?” he asked gently. “I mean, everything that happened… it was a lot to handle, especially to take it in all at once.”
Offering him a soft smile, Newt fidgeted with her fingers in her lap as she spoke. “We’re okay,” she said plainly, simply.
“Are you sure?” Crowley persisted. “I just want to make sure you’re not – not in shock, or something.”
Anathema breathed a quiet laugh, shaking her head. “Not in shock. Possibly in mild irritation, but not going to push it while the irritating factor is in recovery.”
There was a beat, then Asaph jerked his head up to look at her. “Wait, I’m the irritating factor?”
“Yeah, you are,” Anathema replied, her tone a mix of fond and annoyed. “I don’t see anybody else here who kept the coolest secret in the whole world from his best friend, and then tried to rush headlong into a death trap because he was too stubborn to ask for help, and almost got himself and everybody else very much killed.”
His cheeks flushing pink, Asaph looked down and mumbled, “Right. Sorry.”
“I know you are,” she replied, “and like I said, I’m not pushing it. Just glad you’re okay.”
The librarian gave her a sheepish smile, which said everything that needed saying. The room was comfortably quiet for a long moment before Anathema got a devilish glint in her eye, caught Crowley’s eye, and raised an eyebrow at him meaningfully. He heaved a deep, tired sigh, shaking his head, and she grinned.
“To be completely clear, between friends,” Anathema began in an overly polite tone, as if she wasn’t about to heavily stir the pot just for fun, “are you two ever going to get over yourselves and talk to each other for real?”
Crowley pinched the bridge of his nose, Asaph groaned, and even Newt choked a little on her breath. Anathema laughed at them and then paused thoughtfully before gathering up the pile of food on the bed and filling her grocery bag again. She hopped off the bed, reaching for Newt’s hand to guide her to follow.
“I’ll throw this in the kitchen, shall I?” she asked, though she wasn’t really asking, as she breezed out of the room, pulling Newt willingly along with her. The sounds of Anathema’s work in the kitchen were brief before she returned to poke her head in the door, Newt popping up behind her to give the men a wave. “We’ll be on our way, then,” Anathema said casually. “Leave you two alone, so you can… be alone.”
“Goodbye, darling,” Asaph replied as they made their way out, his tone a bit harsh for the words he used. He heard Anathema laugh, and he felt thankful she couldn’t see the scowl on his face, because he knew it would have made her laugh harder.
Crowley threw out a vague farewell in the direction of the laughter and waited to hear the front door close; as soon as it did, he stood robotically and left the room, moving with a purpose to lock the door. When he returned to the bedroom, he didn’t sit tentatively on the edge of the bed, choosing instead to collapse onto the empty half with his whole body, huffing out a breath and closing his eyes in exhaustion.
“Why is it that they all say you two with the same infuriating inflection?” he asked, exasperated, his voice muffled through his hands as he dragged his fingers down his face. “It’s condescending, is what it is. Like they think they know better than us.”
Asaph considered this sincerely for a moment before looking down at Crowley’s head, positioned torturously close to his thigh. He resisted the impulse to reach out and touch him, to stroke his hair in a comforting gesture. “Don’t they, though?” he murmured, almost without his own permission.
The vampire’s eyes snapped wide open, staring up at him, flooding with a mixture of hope and fear and confusion. “Don’t they what?”
“Never mind,” Asaph said quickly, his face burning. “I think – I rather think I’d like to rest for a while, if you don’t mind.”
His face falling slightly, Crowley rolled over and began to get up from the bed, but the librarian’s hand on his shoulder made him stop in his tracks and turn back to face him, confused. Asaph looked pained, as if it were difficult for him to look directly at Crowley, and then he spoke again, his voice unbearably gentle.
“You don’t – you don’t have to leave, if you don’t want,” he said slowly. “I feel bad for taking your bed from you, is all, and you could… you could stay. If you wanted.”
Crowley stayed frozen for what felt like ages, scrutinizing Asaph’s face, looking in his eyes for some indication that he was joking, or that Crowley had imagined it, or anything. Eventually, he gave a jerky nod of his head, moving over on the bed so the librarian could shift into a more comfortable position, and they lay there, together and separate.
It didn’t take long for Asaph to fall asleep, and though Crowley was comfortable, he stayed awake much longer, thinking. Asaph was lying on his left side, to avoid putting pressure on his injury, which meant he was facing the opposite wall. Crowley wanted more than anything to face the same way, to inch closer, to be able to smell him and feel the warmth radiating from his skin, possibly even to touch him, but he couldn’t.
He couldn’t turn the other way either, as it still made him uneasy, not to mention unhappy, for the librarian to be out of his sight. He settled for lying on his back, gazing sidelong at Asaph’s form in the dark, and after a while, utterly burnt out from the previous 48 hours and finally just comfortable enough to let his guard down a bit, Crowley was able to drift to sleep.
Chapter 19: in which the boys have a fruitful discussion
Crowley awoke several hours before Asaph, on account of his not being injured, his not technically needing to sleep, and his mind running at full speed making what sleep he could get restless and fitful. He attempted to occupy himself with something, anything at all, but it was entirely futile. After failing to watch television, failing to read a book, and failing to remember a specific word in a language that had been extinct for centuries, he ended up sitting in his chair in the corner for a while, doing nothing and trying not to think.
After a peaceful stretch of time, Asaph began tossing and turning, muttering in his sleep, and Crowley rushed to the bed, sitting beside him and watching closely. There wasn't much else he could do, really. He didn't want to wake him, because he needed the rest, and in spite of every nerve in his body crying out to comfort, to soothe, Crowley valiantly held back from touching him.
It didn't take long after the upset began before Asaph jerked himself awake with a start. He blinked in confusion for several long moments before his gaze fell on Crowley, sitting over him and watching him, and his eyes lit up at the sight.
"Er, hello," Asaph said awkwardly, his voice thick with sleep and some strange surge of emotion he couldn't place. He was relieved, glad to have Crowley close, glad to see his face – it was more than that, too, but his sleep-addled mind was unable to parse his feelings on a deeper level just yet.
"Hi," Crowley said in a rough whisper, giving him a small smile.
The librarian shifted to sit up, and Crowley automatically extended an arm to help him get leverage, an offer that he accepted without hesitation. His hand was soft and warm where it gripped the vampire's forearm, and it was all Crowley could do not to either pull away or lean entirely too far into the touch. When Asaph was upright with his back against the pillows, he loosened his hold but kept his hand resting comfortably on Crowley's arm.
"I think…" Crowley paused, reluctant to admit what had to come next. "I think you may be well enough to go home. I mean… if you want to. You need clean clothes and a shower, at least."
Asaph smiled and breathed a laugh out of his nose. "Yes, I think I've imposed on you long enough."
Without missing a beat, Crowley replied fervently, "It's no imposition at all." He paused, biting his lip, before continuing, "If there's anything else I can do for you, I – please let me know."
"You've done more than enough," Asaph said. "I couldn't ask for any more of your hospitality."
Crowley couldn't help but level a glare at him, exasperated by his politeness. "It's not hospitality, and you're not asking."
Furrowing his brow, Asaph frowned and asked, "What do you mean, it's not hospitality? What is it, then?"
"I just mean… hospitality is a cold word," the vampire answered, wincing at how it sounded when he said it out loud. "Impersonal, I think. Calling it hospitality sort of implies that I'd do it for anyone."
"Wouldn’t you?" Asaph looked up at him, baffled, a faint whisper of hope in his eyes.
Crowley shook his head. "No, I wouldn't. You're…" He paused, thankfully stopping himself before letting slip something silly like you're special, then took a breath and continued, "You're here because I care about you."
Asaph said nothing for a very long time, long enough that it began to go to Crowley's head and he wondered if he couldn't just leave, slip out of the room to avoid the embarrassment. If he was quiet enough, the watcher might not even notice, although he was looking directly at him; in any case, Crowley thought, he could certainly outrun the man. It was this thought that made him stop in his tracks, realizing how absurd an idea it was, to run away because he'd said something true, something he didn't regret. No, running was not an option. Instead, he kept talking, filling up the silence as best he knew how.
"So – so I'm just saying, you know," he stammered nervously, not daring to look at the watcher's face, "that if – if – if you need anything, not just because you're injured, I mean anything at all, I want to help."
There was another pause, less harrowing than the first, as Asaph looked thoughtful, trying to conceal a goofy grin that he felt would be very unbecoming on him. Crowley watched intently, searching for something in his expression to give away his thoughts, but Asaph was unreadable for the moment. He bit his lip, nodding slowly, the gears turning in his head, until at last he spoke.
"Now that you mention it," he said warmly, "I no longer need to be bedridden and babysat, but I don't think I'll be up to patrolling quite yet. Would you… if you wanted to accompany the kids in my place, that would be a great help."
Crowley hesitated, wrinkling his brow, looking concerned and surprised and pleased all at once. "Really? You would – you'd trust me with that?"
"Of course," Asaph answered plainly, as if it were easy and obvious. "There's nobody else I would rather have keeping them safe."
It was a heavy statement, he knew, coming from the watcher, it meant everything to be trusted with the children’s safety. The words sounded like music to his ears, but Crowley remained apprehensive, afraid to get his hopes up. "Are you sure, though? Because –"
Whatever neurotic nonsense was going to come out of his mouth was quickly stifled when Asaph grabbed a fistful of his shirt and pulled, leaning forward to meet him in the middle, their lips crashing together in an inelegant kiss. Crowley made a noise he would absolutely not call a whimper, muffled against Asaph's mouth, and then melted under his touch.
He pulled away too soon, staring at Crowley with his eyes wide and earnest. "That's how sure I am," he said, his shaking voice betraying his confident words. "Does that clear things up?"
"It does, yes, quite a lot, but…" Crowley stammered nervously, trailing off and chewing on his lip.
"But what?" Asaph furrowed his brow, squeezing the vampire's arm. "Was that okay? I'm sorry, that was stupid, wasn’t it? I should have said something, I'm sorry."
"No, no, don't apologize," Crowley said hastily. "No, it was good, it was – fuck, I wish you’d done that months ago. It's just that… I'm not…" He lowered his voice below a whisper, turning away and mumbling, "I'm not good enough for you."
The watcher was silent for a long, dangerous moment, and then he lifted his hand to rest delicately against Crowley’s cheek, the warmth of his skin making it easy for him to gently guide the vampire to look at him once more. He looked into Crowley's eyes, wide and fearful, and stroked the vampire's cheekbone lightly with his thumb, hoping to comfort him, to smooth out the doubt on his face.
“Crowley,” he said softly, his tone all crisp and velvety, and it made the vampire’s stomach flip. “I mean this with all the respect in the world: that is the single absolute stupidest thing anyone has ever said.”
Crowley set his jaw, huffing out a breath. “I’m being serious.”
“Oh, so am I,” Asaph insisted, an almost imperceptible hint of mirth in his expression, a glint in his eye. “I very deeply, genuinely believe that nobody in the history of the world has ever said anything more ridiculous than the words that just came from your mouth.”
“But…” Crowley floundered, trying to find the words to counter his remark, his mouth hanging open lamely. “But it’s not safe,” he protested weakly, unable to come up with anything else.
Asaph scoffed and rolled his eyes. “I’m a watcher,” he said slowly, emphatically. “My job is to watch over, to teach and guide the vampire slayer. Nothing I do is safe. But you – you’ve never hurt me or put me in danger. You’ve never threatened my life, which is more than could be said of me, were the situation reversed.”
Crowley opened his mouth to object, but Asaph pressed two fingers over his parted lips, quieting him rather effectively, and continued his own speech. "In all the time I've known you, Crowley, you've been… you've been honest and kind, you've saved my life and the children's lives on more than one occasion, you've continued to act as protector and ally even when I treated you like a villain." He paused, taking a deep, wavering inhale, moving his hand from Crowley's mouth to rest near his jaw.
"Your presence in our lives has been nothing short of a blessing," he said with a sense of finality. "It was immensely stupid of me not to realize it much earlier, and now that I've come to that conclusion, I won't have you mucking it up, thank you very much."
Staring at Asaph, Crowley paused long enough to be certain that he was done. "That was a lot," he said eventually, the words coming out stilted and wooden, still trying not to give away too much. “Thank you, really, but. Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Yes, I’m sure," Asaph replied, the answer coming quickly and easily, like a reflex. "I'm sure about you in a way I haven't been sure about anything before.” He hesitated a moment before adding, “And you?”
“What about me?” Crowley asked, his face screwed up in confusion.
The watcher raised an eyebrow at him, pressing his lips together. “It’s just – you seem an awful lot like you’re trying to talk me out of it,” he said gently, trying not to offend, “and I would really rather you didn’t, because it won’t work, so it’s frankly a massive waste of time. If you don’t – if you aren’t in this, just say so, please.”
Crowley frowned and looked away, swallowing down a bitter taste in his throat from the uncertainty in the watcher’s voice. “I’m in this,” he said earnestly, “I am. I want this. I want you.”
Much to Crowley’s comfort, Asaph brightened, a warm smile spreading across his face. “Well then,” he said primly, moving a hand casually to rest on the vampire’s leg. “In that case, allow me to politely request that you bloody act like it.”
It was impossible for Crowley not to smile back at him, his words and his expression and his hand working together to pull all of Crowley’s strings. “Only since you were so polite,” he murmured, his soft voice getting softer as he leaned in close to capture Asaph in another kiss.
The movements of their lips were slower than the first time, less impulsive and more deliberate, and they basked in it. Crowley cupped Asaph’s cheeks in his hands, soaking up the warmth of him, breathing him in, memorizing the contours of his face. He parted his lips in invitation, gasping when Asaph took the hint and licked into his mouth, reveling in the overlapping sensations of hot and wet and soft, the delicate tug of teeth at his lower lip, the solid weight of a hand pressing in at his waist.
Forgetting himself in the moment, Crowley involuntarily moaned into Asaph’s mouth, a noise full of heat and unreserved pleasure, and the watcher pulled back quickly, turning away to hide his face. Crowley thankfully bit back the whine that threatened to leave him, but he frowned, kicking himself internally.
“I’m sorry,” said the vampire shamefully. His mind had, as usual, already gone through several stages of rational thought and landed on the worst case scenario; he was only hoping against hope that he hadn’t ruined everything.
“No, no,” Asaph replied hastily, “you’re fine.”
He turned back, and Crowley could see that his face was flushed, his hair slightly mussed, his lips red and, most importantly, turned up just the smallest bit at the corners. He was gorgeous, and he wasn’t upset, and both facts made Crowley’s chest squeeze tightly.
“You okay?” he ventured, cocking his head to the side and looking at the watcher curiously.
“God, yes,” came the passionate reply. “Just – erm. I don’t want to be forward, but I would really like to take a shower before we do any more of that.”
“Oh.” Crowley blinked a few times, his anxious thoughts dissipating slowly, and then it hit him. “Oh. Alright, then. Lift home?”
Chapter 20: in which they all live happily ever after
It was four days before the watcher was strong enough to go out on patrol again, four long, boring, normal days followed by evenings where Crowley took the kids around town to search for trouble, finding very little, and then dropped them all off at their homes before heading straight to Asaph’s. Four boring days followed by four endlessly un-boring nights.
A week and a half went by before the two could be together in front of other people; they knew better than to give Anathema or the kids the opportunity for the world’s loudest I told you so and the world’s most melodramatic fake gagging, so they kept their honeymoon phase entirely private, waiting it out until they could stand to look at each other without smiling like lovesick fools.
Crowley and Asaph tried to make it a casual, gradual acclimation, rather than a big ordeal, but Anathema had other ideas. The first time the whole group gathered together there was a cake that read CONGRATS ON THE BONING! in pink glitter frosting, which she wouldn’t admit to purchasing, but which everyone enjoyed immensely. The four children and four adults settled into a comfortable way of being, after that.
Slayer research in the library transformed steadily into an all-purpose study group for anything the kids needed to get done. Asaph and Crowley would help with tough homework, and Anathema and Newt would stop by with carryout on occasion, teasing Asaph for the visceral fear in his eyes whenever the food got near his books. They got together whenever they could all spare an evening, between school and jobs and slayer business, and they loved each other in their fun, interesting ways. Altogether, they spent more time ribbing each other than anything else, and they wouldn’t have had it any other way.
When school was out for the summer and the days were long and empty, Crowley found that he and Asaph were spending more and more time at each other’s flats, practically trading off every day, rarely spending a day apart. He broached the subject one afternoon in late August, when they were lying entangled on his sofa, in the middle of a heated but good-natured debate about what they should order for dinner.
“I’m telling you, statistically speaking, we’ve had more Chinese than Indian,” the watcher was saying insistently. “That doesn’t mean we must have Indian tonight, it’s just a fact.”
Crowley nodded thoughtfully, as if he was considering Asaph’s point, as if his mind wasn’t a thousand miles away, and then he asked, “Do you think we should get a house?”
“Not for dinner, dear.”
“No, I mean to live in.”
Asaph pulled his head back to get a view of the vampire’s face. “Are you kidding?”
“Why would I be kidding?” Crowley asked sincerely.
“Well, it’s just – sudden, is all,” Asaph replied, furrowing his brow. “Rather out of the blue, don’t you think?”
Crowley shrugged. “Maybe,” he said with forced nonchalance. “Do you want to, though?”
“It sounds lovely, Crowley, really,” Asaph answered, pressing a quick kiss to the vampire’s forehead. “Let’s discuss it some more over our Indian food, yes?”
By the time the new year rolled around, Crowley purchased a plot of land and the two started working on plans for the perfect home. The preliminary blueprints had two large libraries, a master bedroom with no windows, and an armory. It remained a work in progress for a long while, but they had time.
“Hey,” Crowley said suddenly one night over drinks, in the office of the school library because neither he nor Asaph really preferred the atmosphere of a bar. “Tell me something.”
Asaph looked at him fondly. “Yes, dear?”
A beat of Crowley thinking and chewing on his lip, weighing whether it would be worth it to ask – it was an awkward topic to broach for the first time over a year into a relationship, and the longer he went without asking, the more awkward it would be when he asked – and then he asked. “What does the Z stand for?”
Laughing, Asaph took a sip of his cocktail, peering over the rim of the glass at Crowley’s expectant expression. He took his time in setting his drink down, taking a breath, and answering simply, “Zechariah.”
“Hm,” Crowley hummed thoughtfully, neither a positive nor a negative sound, before saying in a slow and measured tone, “Asaph Zechariah,” feeling out the shapes of the syllables in his mouth.
“Yes, quite,” the man replied. “Means God remembers. The middle name, that is – Asaph means collector. Used to think it was funny when I was younger, what with the books and everything – s’why I became a librarian. Collect the books, serve the public, everyone already expects you to be a bit cross all the time, it’s ideal.”
Crowley smiled, imagining Asaph as a child with a little dragon hoard of books. “Collector. S’much more interesting than mine.”
“I never did ask – I mean, I read it, but – you know, it was unreliable, and in Latin,” Asaph babbled nervously. The infamous book was a subject they tended to avoid. “Erm – what does the J stand for, exactly?”
“Julien,” Crowley answered plainly.
Asaph reacted with the same noncommittal hum that Crowley had made. “Anthony Julien,” he murmured pensively, nodding his head.
Crowley nodded back at him, pursing his lips. “It means. Erm. It means my parents were Catholics,” he said, blunt and matter-of-fact.
“It’s a good name,” Asaph assured him. He was not quite drunk, but just tipsy enough to feel a pleasant warmth throughout his body and to have a vague inability to filter his thoughts before speaking them. “Pretty,” he added, throwing the word out as an afterthought without elaboration.
“What, my name? My name’s pretty?”
“Mhm. Feels nice, sounds nice. Might have to start using it.”
Crowley nudged Asaph’s leg gently under the table with his foot, breathing out a dismissive laugh. “You’d never,” he teased, though his smile was warm and full of love.
Raising his eyebrows in an almost challenging manner, Asaph gave him an equally dismissive shrug. “Might do it,” he said, as if he still didn’t know for sure. “Anthony Julien Crowley. Anthony… Julien… Crowley.” He tested out the name several times in a row, not mocking, merely saying the words because he liked the sound, pulling the vowels out like taffy, until eventually he landed on a conclusion: “Anthony Julien Fell.”
He froze instantly, every muscle in his body tensing, and stared deep into his drink rather than risk a glance at Crowley’s face. Crowley was frozen as well, debating in his head whether he could get away with pretending he hadn’t heard it, just to save himself the embarrassment of asking Asaph to repeat it. He had just about resolved to change the subject, but his mouth had other ideas.
“What’d you say?” The words left him of their own accord, and he issued a stern internal fuck you to the speech center of his brain. It was out there, though, and he could do nothing but wait for the answer.
Swallowing hard, Asaph spoke in a rough whisper without looking up. “I believe I said. Anthony Julien Fell.”
Crowley nodded his acknowledgment and understanding. “Now, why would you say a silly thing like that?”
“I’m sorry, my dear, really,” the librarian said quickly, his cheeks flushed dark. “It’s soon, I know, but I’m – I’m not asking, mind, I’m just saying that it’s – something that I want. If it’s something that you want.”
“I don’t think it’s soon,” Crowley said curiously. “Just think the implication that I’d take your name rather than hyphenating is patently ridiculous.”
Looking up at him finally, choking on his own breath, Asaph made a small squeaking noise, followed by a strained, “What?”
Crowley raised his eyebrows, entirely too calm for the topic of conversation. “Think about it,” he explained patiently, “I’ve been Crowley for seven hundred years; I can’t just get rid of it. Imagine me going around calling myself Crowley, and it’s not even technically part of my name. It’s just silly.”
“Silly,” Asaph repeated, his voice sounding hollow and distant. His mind was still stuck on Crowley’s voice echoing I don’t think it’s soon like a broken record; everything else was background noise.
“Yeah.” The librarian cleared his throat, shaking his head to center himself. “Yes, I’m fine.”
“Good,” Crowley replied softly. He paused to take a drink, letting his tongue flicker over his lips before continuing with a breezy nonchalance, “I’m thinking of a fall wedding.”
Asaph spluttered, spitting his cocktail all over Crowley and the table between them, and the vampire found he didn’t really mind.
When the kids walked across the stage at their high school graduation, their watcher and their vampire had front row seats, thanks in no small part to the watcher’s position on the school staff. They sat next to Anathema and Newt, whooped and cheered and certainly did not shed a tear or two. The children’s parents had first claim on them for the evening, but Crowley and Asaph took them out the following night to celebrate, as well as to discuss their plans going forward.
“I’m retiring,” Adam declared confidently to the group, a wide grin on his face.
“I don’t think you can do that,” Brian said.
Rolling his eyes, Adam replied, “I can do whatever I want. I’m the vampire slayer.”
“Not if you retire,” Wensley pointed out, “so it’s kind of a catch-22.”
“If you retire, it’ll be so boring,” Pepper complained, pouting at Adam.
Adam shrugged. “Sorry, Pep. You can go seek out street fights whenever you want. I, on the other hand, am going to get an education and do something that’ll actually have an impact on the world, and I can’t do that while being the vampire slayer. Believe it or not, the gig does not leave a lot of free time.”
Exchanging a look, Crowley and Asaph smiled, both glowing with pride. The children continued to bicker about the logistics of the vampire slayer retiring at the age of eighteen, but the two of them knew that it wouldn’t be a problem. They let the conversation carry on for a few minutes, watching and listening in fond amusement, before cutting in to settle the issue.
“It’ll be fine, kids,” Crowley said smoothly, quieting the group's voices and drawing their attention. Since technically reaching adulthood, the four of them had become less petulant and indignant about being called kids; it was counterintuitive, Crowley thought, but it meant less complaining, so he didn't mention it aloud. “We’ll still be here," he continued, speaking firmly, but not unkindly. "You lot go save the world in other ways, and we’ll hold down the fort.”
“That’s not your job,” Adam protested guiltily.
Asaph raised his eyebrows. “It could be, in a way. I am your watcher; it just so happens that I would prefer to watch you succeed in your chosen endeavors, rather than an endeavor that’s chosen you.”
There was a long period of silence wherein Adam tried his damnedest not to show that he was tearing up a bit. When he’d managed to bite back the worst of it, he blinked a few times and looked back at his watcher. “Thank you,” he said fervently.
“It’s our pleasure,” Asaph replied, “truly.” He didn't mention that with the kids out of school, he no longer had a reason to work there, and he much preferred to keep his personal collection of books away from the public, especially when the public was teenagers. So Adam's retirement meant Asaph's retirement, and he was looking forward to it.
With that, the conversation was over, the issue resolved, and the group changed the subject and continued talking and laughing until the early morning. They talked college plans, career goals, television finales, music recommendations, everything beyond and between. It was warm and familiar and comfortable, a little family on its own, and the future took the night off from looming, retreating pleasantly into the territory of hope and anticipation.
There was a big party when Newt and Anathema welcomed their third child into the world, a beautiful baby girl that they named Arabella Zekiel. Asaph was honored by the name, or rather the initials, so chosen because the baby was born on his 40th birthday, and he was equally honored when he and Crowley were named godfathers for the third time.
But there was something else on his mind. It ate away at him all throughout the party, as he mingled with friends and family, as he held the baby and had his picture taken with her, as he drank champagne and stuck close to Crowley’s side. He managed to keep it under wraps the entire evening, not wanting to distract from the main event, not wanting to ruin Crowley’s pleasant time, but the dam broke in the car on their way home.
“Crowley,” he said, in a tone that suggested that a thought had just occurred to him, not that he’d been thinking about it nonstop all night, and fairly consistently for the past however many nights. “How do you love me?”
Crowley kept his eyes on the road, drawing his brows up in a mix of confusion and amusement. “Er. Let me count the ways?”
“No, I mean. I mean…” Asaph heaved a miserable, wretched sigh, wringing his hands in his lap. “I mean, I love you entirely, you know? You’re it for me. I look at you and I know exactly how the rest of my life is going to go, and you’re there in every part of it, and that’s what I want.”
“That’s what I want, too,” Crowley said fervently, his confusion rapidly tipping into concern, pulling the car over in anticipation of a difficult conversation. “We’re married, Asaph. We built our dream home together. I love you entirely.”
Chewing on his lip, Asaph paused before slowly replying, “But you can’t, can you?” He glanced sidelong at Crowley, afraid to look directly at him, and saw his expression crumble. “I don’t want you to be broken when I’m gone,” he whispered roughly. “I don’t want to leave you here alone.”
Before he could think about it, Crowley shook his head, reaching to clutch Asaph’s hands tight in his own. “You don’t have to leave,” he moaned desperately, unable to stop the words coming out, and then he gasped, realizing what he’d said. “Fuck, I am so sorry, love, I didn’t mean that.”
“You didn’t?” Asaph’s eyes brimmed with tears, his voice wavering.
“I couldn’t – I could never ask that of you. It was selfish and cruel of me to mention it.”
Asaph searched his soul for a moment, just a moment, because that was all it took. “Could I ask it of you?”
“You don’t know what you’re asking for,” Crowley warned darkly.
Jutting out a defiant lip, Asaph looked him square in the eyes. “I know you want to do it,” he said, perhaps a bit harshly, and he felt a pang of guilt in his gut at the way Crowley winced. He softened his tone, reaching up to caress the vampire’s cheek. “You want to do it, don’t you? To keep me? It isn’t selfish, it isn’t, I want it too, more than anything.”
Crowley looked conflicted, his eyes flitting between several points, trying to find an anchor. “How long have you been thinking about this?”
“Twelve years,” Asaph answered, too quick. “Since the day we met, if we’re being honest. But I’ve been seriously considering it for a few months now. And very seriously considering it all day.”
“Do you know – do you know what eternity is?” Crowley sounded wretched, and he looked worse, but this was one issue he could not afford to avoid.
“It’s what we promised each other when we got married,” Asaph said fiercely, his eyes dark and burning. “I meant it. Did you?”
Crowley surged forward and wrapped a hand around the back of Asaph’s head, twisting long fingers into his curls and kissing him hungrily, desperately. His teeth grazed the man’s lip ever so gently, not pressing or pulling, just a sharp reminder that made Asaph groan into the kiss and pull away, panting.
“I did,” the vampire murmured eventually, “I do.”
Smiling gently, Asaph twined his fingers in Crowley’s, lifting their joined hands to his lips to kiss Crowley’s knuckles gently. “Do you want me, my dearest?” he asked, his tone soft and tender. “That’s the only thing that matters here. Not your brooding guilt, not your worry for my feelings, not your pontifications on eternity, only that – will you have me?”
“Of course I want you.” Crowley’s voice was pained, but it was clear he was on the brink of giving in. “Of course I do, but there’s no going back from this. You need to be certain. Are you certain?”
“Maybe sometime in all of eternity, you’ll learn to stop asking me that,” Asaph muttered, rolling his eyes, before schooling his expression into something sincere and somber. “I am certain about this,” he said clearly, leaving no room for doubt. “I am certain that I want forever, and everything it entails.”
And what could Crowley do with that but pull his husband into another deep, passionate kiss, his long lifetime of loneliness melting away as he allowed himself to envision their future together, their forever. It was a vivid image, one he’d kept in shadows for years, unwilling to hope or dream that it could ever be real. The two of them traveling the world. The two of them helping people together. The two of them loving each other for ages and eons to come.
It wouldn’t be that easy, they both knew. They were fully committed, but too practical, too smart to jump into it after one heartfelt confession; it would take many more hours of honest discussion before they would do it. It would be difficult and exhausting and when it finally happened, it would be pain before it was bliss, and they knew this.
For now, though, parked by the side of the road in the middle of the night, kissing as if they were each other’s only tethers to the earth, as if they would float away if they let go of each other – here, they were happy, and it was enough.
fuck. shit. holy shit, fuck, y'all. thank you so, so much. i'm so proud of this work, and so thankful for all the wonderful and kind feedback i've received as i've worked through it. your support means the world to me, your comments bring me joy, and i hope this story does the same for you.