Airports always seemed to be such like a kind of purgatory, a transient place where all manner of people rubbed shoulder to shoulder, trapped in bleak halls and overpriced shops, buying bland and tasteless food while waiting for a journey to begin.
Aziraphale had always hated them, with their speakers and screens and arrows giving contradictory directions.
They were so much worse when one was in… well… to put it mildly a right state.
He shifted his canvas hold-all on his knees, fidgeting uncomfortably on the plastic seat. Yes, technically, he could go and sit in the lounge, but then – of course – he would fret and worry about whether they might change the gate or whether he’d read the screen wrong or… or any number of things that could go wrong in an airport.
So he sat and fidgeted, and as soon as they opened the gate for first-class passengers, he bustled up as quickly as he could. There were pleasantries and smiles from charming hostesses, but he couldn’t care less. The sooner he was on the plane and had something to drink, the sooner he wouldn’t have to think about the actual flight.
Once he found his seat, he tucked himself into it at once, gratefully knocking back a measure of the champagne the hostess had poured for him.
It would all be all right. It would be fine. This was just the difficult part. The… the flying.
As soon as he got to London and found Gabriel, then they could sort everything out and everything would be back to normal.
With fumbling fingers, he unlocked his telephone, staring at the last message. How things had changed since he received it, two days ago. [See you soon, hon.] Soon. Ha. As if Gabriel hadn’t telephoned the very next day, waxing lyrical about some devilishly delightful person he’d met.
Aziraphale’s thumb hovered over the screen. He really ought to send a message to let Gabriel know he was coming. He really ought to do something.
“But I’m – I thought – we’re meant to be getting married.”
“I know, I know,” Gabriel had soothed, as if he’d just spilled something on the tablecloth and not announced he was running off with some floozie. “You’re great, Az, you really are. Smart and funny and sweet, but Bea? She’s a spitfire. So much vim! So much spunk!”
“I have spunk!” Aziraphale protested, too stunned and shaken to be truly angry. “You always say I’m a feisty little thing!”
“And you are, but–”
“But not enough, clearly.”
He’d hung up and sat for close to an hour before the shock gave way to indignation and outrage. Half a bottle of wine and some furious telephone calls later and he had a plane ticket back to London to track down his stupid bloody errant fiancé.
Michael, Gabriel’s sister, had tried to talk him out of it. It was probably just a fling, she’d insisted. Getting it out his system before they settled down. Sowing his wild oats. It’d be fine. And anyway, she added, if Aziraphale left America, then he could kiss goodbye to his citizenship application. The very citizenship he had applied for to ensure he would be able to stay with his future-husband.
The cheating no-good imbecile.
He huffed and slapped his phone down on the arm of his plush first-class seat and took another mouthful of champagne, sneezing when the bubbles tickled his nose.
Economy passengers were flooding down the aisle and he watched them passing as he brooded over his drink. Some were clearly happily partnered off, giggling and touching, and he sank more morosely into the seat.
A colourfully-dressed young lady stumbled, almost falling over the arm of his chair and he reached out to steady her. She’d tripped over his bag, he realised, mortified.
“Oh, my dear, excuse me.”
She straightened up with a rueful smile. “Not a bother.” His eyes drifted to the extremely prominent swell of her midriff. “Yeah, that’s causing some of the balance problems.” She groped down for her bag and he scooped it up for her. “Thanks.”
“Surely, you’re not travelling alone…”
She peered around for her shoe, digging it out from under the opposite seat. “On my way home to my better half,” she replied. Grumbles from other passengers behind made her make a face. “No harm done. Better get moving or there’ll be hell to pay.”
Why he did it, he couldn’t say.
Perhaps the need to see some little bit of optimism, but thirty seconds later, he shuffled through the curtain into the far more crowded sections of the plane, leaving a very bewildered and very surprised pregnant woman occupying a plush first-class armchair that would certainly be far better for her than being sardined away in economy.
Mercifully, it was a window seat, but he still had to clear his throat to get the passenger in the aisle seat to move. The black-clad man was sprawled out in the seat, long legs accordioned up in front of him, and sunglasses on his – oh good Lord – tattooed face. Was that a snake? Who on earth had a snake tattooed on their face?
Aziraphale cleared his throat again, but when the man didn’t move huffed indignantly. “Excuse me.”
The man peered up at him. “What?”
Aziraphale sheepishly indicated to the window. “My seat.”
The man’s eyebrows rose, but he shrugged and unfolded out of the seat like a piece of origami. He seemed to be entirely made of long, gangling limbs.
“Thank you,” Aziraphale said, clutching his hold-all up to his chest and squeezing in to the window seat. As soon as he sat, he tried to put his bag under the seat, then frowned. How on earth was anyone meant to fit one’s feet in anywhere?
“I can shove it in the overhead,” Mr. Aisle-seat said. “S’plenty of room.”
Aziraphale eyed him guardedly, then the pitiful amount of leg-room. “That would probably be best,” he reluctantly agreed, handing the bag over, though he clung onto the handle. “Do be careful. I have a couple of fragile volumes in there.”
The man grinned at him, teeth astonishingly pointed and white, and hoisted the bag over his head. It disappeared into the overhead locker, and the man concertinaed himself back down into the seat.
Aziraphale occupied himself finding both ends of his seat belt, tilting one way, then the other, and tried to ignore the feeling he was being watched. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Mr. Aisle-seat looking in his direction, though it was hard to tell with the sunglasses.
“Didn’t you have a glass of champers up in first class a minute ago?”
“Er…” Oh look! The two ends of the belt. Fitting together. And not at all reminding him that he’d–
“You did!” the man exclaimed. “Fizzing like anything, it was! What happened? Decided to see what life’s like for the plebs, eh?”
Heat bloomed up Aziraphale’s cheeks. “Um. I gave it away.”
Mr. Aisle-seat was fully gaping now. “You what?”
Aziraphale threw up his hands. “I gave it away! There was a poor young lady coming through and she’s expecting and I said, here, have my seat! More room for her and the baby!” He glanced uncomfortably at the man next to him, suddenly worried that the rather dangerous-looking man with his face tattoos and dark glasses might take it personally. “I do hope it wasn’t the wrong thing.”
One side of the man’s mouth curled up. “Well, aren’t you just an angel,” he drawled.
“Oh!” Aziraphale flushed. “Thank you… ah…” He raised his eyebrows inquiringly.
The man’s sharp grin softened a bit at the edges. “Crowley.” He offered a skinny hand. “Anthony Crowley. Most people just stick with Crowley.”
“Crowley.” Aziraphale echoed, nodding as he shook the man’s hand. “Yes. Very good.” He jumped when the plane juddered to a start and shot a panicked look out the window. “Oh Lord…”
“Leaving on time. That makes a change,” Crowley said, leaning over to peer out the window.
“Yes. Very good.” Aziraphale fumbled with the seat belt, trying to fit the tongue in the hasp, as the pre-flight recording started playing on the screen in the back of the seat in front. The buckle done, he grabbed for the instruction card, frantically looking between it and the screen.
“Bit nervous?” Crowley inquired, sprawled back comfortably in his seat.
“I-I don’t usually travel solo,” Aziraphale mumbled, scanning the images on the card. Oh why, why, why had he given up his seat in the nice part of the plane with wider aisles and easy access to the doors instead of pinioning himself into a corner like this?
“Ahhh.” Crowley said as if Aziraphale had made some great explanation. “You’re one of those.”
Aziraphale blinked at him. “I beg your pardon?”
“Bet you have your chaperone,” Crowley continued, smirk curling his lips. “Someone to hold your hand and tell you there there, it’ll all be all right.”
“Well, techn–” Aziraphale huffed. He was a grown man, for Heaven’s sake! “No! Absolutely not! I-I-I can travel quite well on my own in fact! I’m a business man and perfectly capable of–”
“Of what?” Crowley swayed, grinning, clearly enjoying himself. What a nasty man. “Of lying back and thinking of England?” He leaned a little closer, wiggling his eyebrows. “Y’seem the type. Buttoned up and always need someone to look after you like the pillow princess you–”
“How dare you!” Aziraphale reached over and jabbed the man in the chest. “You don’t even know me and you make such crude assumptions and accusations entirely based on my appearance! I find that the height of contempt and you ought to be ashamed of yourself and–”
And he found all the frustration and anger and everything else had couldn’t direct at Gabriel just poured out. He kept jabbing the man in the bony chest repeatedly with a finger to make his point, and all the while the stupid, stupid man just grinned at him, like he’d won the lottery.
“And on that matter,” he concluded, “I think it’s none of your business.” He sniffed haughtily and folded his hands in his lap.
“Right, yeah, no, totally agree,” Crowley said amiably. “Just out of curiosity, though…”
“What?” Aziraphale snapped.
“What do you think of the view?”
It took a moment for the words to sink in, then he turned to the window, staring out.
They were in the air.
He hadn’t even had time to panic about the take-off, too busy pouring forth his vitriol on his neighbour. Who had seemed entirely amused by his ranting. Who had… who had distracted him and kept him from the inevitable terror and meltdown that usually loomed when he travelled.
“Oh…” he breathed, watching the edge of the Eastern seaboard vanish below as they curled out over the Atlantic. He twisted in his seat to look at Crowley, but the man was already off up the aisle and heading towards the toilets. Aziraphale looked back out the window, a mortified flush rising in his cheeks. “Oh dear.”