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Teashop Rendezvous

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The archangel walked in on him in his favourite teashop, enjoying a rare (well, rare-ish) day to himself after all the fuss of the last few years had died down a bit. In disguise, of course, wearing a vessel (he'd never really been fond of that practice, and this one ... oh, really now! A pagan god? Wasn't that just a little gauche?), but hardly enough to hide his grace from an angel six thousand years on the planet and more than proficient at recognising his brothers (well, one had to be, with the likes of Crowley around). Just as Aziraphale was sitting down with a cream bun and a nice cup of tea.

Really, it just wasn't fair.

Which was not to say, of course, that archangels should feel bound to his particular idea of fairness, or that Heavenly business should be put off until after his tea-break, or that they should feel obliged in any way to make him aware of their travel plans, but ... Well. It would have been polite, that's all.

And it might have let him warn Crowley not to plan on dropping by sometime in the next half an hour ...

Oh dear. This was not going to be one of his better days. He could just tell. Still ... best to get these things over with, after all. And perhaps if he could get through this meeting quickly, maybe gently encourage the archangel to remember far more pressing and more important matters than inspecting a lowly agent (possibly suspected of consorting with the enemy, but never mind that), then the bas ... the gentleangel would be gone before Crowley showed up, and he wouldn't have to resort to more ... drastic measures.

He nodded quietly to himself, still watching the -rather short- archangel milling around the pastry counter. Not even looking for him, though he supposed an archangel probably wouldn't have to, especially if he'd been sent by Upstairs. Still ... perhaps a little wave, a little spike of grace, to invite him over ... only polite, after all ...

The archangel straightened up so fast he almost upset the cutlery by the counter, and swung round to face him as if he'd felt Satan himself tap him on the shoulder. Aziraphale, standing frozen by his table, stared in something like amazement as something very, very close to fear flickered over the man's face, followed by a flurry of expression he recognised mostly from having seen Crowley woken suddenly from a nightmare: shock, relief, anger, and a degree of vicious calculation as the demon tried to work out how much of a threat you were, and what he was going to do about it.

Not a series of expressions he'd expected to see on an archangel's face, and Aziraphale found himself, very quietly and very unobtrusively, reaching for his 'drastic measure'. Not to use, not yet, but ... just in case.

Then he pasted on a bright, cheerful grin, and waved a hand to invite the archangel over. And then jumped, not exactly gently, as the archangel ignored all protocol and simply miracled himself to Aziraphale's side, and proceeded to loom rather threateningly. Or at least, attempted to loom threateningly. The threat, he managed easily. It was the 'looming' part that was the problem ...

Aziraphale, a little annoyed by this stage, decided to ignore the breach of manners, and just get this over with as quickly as possible. And as bloodlessly as possible, but given that abnormal sequence of emotion earlier ... he wasn't feeling all that optimistic in that regard.

"Do sit down, dear fellow," he murmured politely, smiling gently into his new companion's scowl. "You know, I realise it rather defeats the purpose of a surprise inspection, but if you'd simply rung to tell me you were coming, we could have avoided all this startlement."

For some reason, the archangel blinked at that. Genuinely confused, for about a half a second before he shoved it away, and was beaming cheerfully in Aziraphale's direction. Exuding innocence and lofty apology like he was born to it, and the angel had to work very, very hard to prevent his eyes from narrowing in an automatic glare. It was pure instinct, after so long around Crowley, and that sudden innocence was so very demon-like ...

"Oh, you know how it is," the archangel grinned, throwing a companionable (and very unwanted) arm around Aziraphale's shoulders. He tried to shift surreptitiously to keep his little surprise hidden. "Got to keep you boys on your toes!"

"Yes, sir," Aziraphale allowed, smiling a little more tightly, but that was only to be expected. Even perfectly innocent angels who weren't twenty minutes away from sitting down to tea with the enemy could expect to be a little annoyed at that. "Though you really should be more careful, sir, if you don't mind my mentioning it, about the cutlery." He couldn't quite keep the little bite from the end of that, the little vicious whisper of censure. He really had been around Crowley too long.

The archangel blinked at him some more, hazel eyes narrowing a little, then he looked back over to the counter (and the now rather-dazed looking staff who hadn't seen an archangel flash across a room, much to their confusion) and the scene of his almost-mishap, and very conspicuous lack of composure. He looked back over, and a faint flush of embarrassment appeared in rounded cheeks. Masked a little by the almost irrepressible grin that snuck up beneath it.

"Yeah, well. How about we agree to keep that one to ourselves, hmmm? Getting used to things, you know. So! Angel. Agent. Inspection type thing. How are things?" He grinned cheerfully at Aziraphale, and there was a glimmer in those eyes of real, genuine amusement, a flash of self-knowing, as if he realised the game was fooling no-one but was prepared to go along with it for as long as Aziraphale was, and just for that ...

Oh well. It wasn't every day one sat down to tea with an archangel. Even a very suspicious, very probably dangerous one who had quite obviously never intended to be anywhere near Aziraphale, and might yet do something drastic of his own. That was ... well. After six thousand years of negotiations with a testy demon, and watching the tentative overtures in St James Park ... this was a very familiar game by now, and occasionally a rather enlightening one. And at least the archangel wasn't one of those tedious gentlemen from the CIA ...

"'Things' are quite well, sir," he murmured happily, with a little curl of his lip that he'd learned from Crowley, and a little sparkle in his eyes that was all his own, and sat down carefully, keeping his surprise in reach at all times and his reactions under light guard. "Do sit down, won't you? Tea? Cream bun?"

The archangel grinned, laughing at him behind his eyes, or perhaps at himself, and flopped down opposite him. "I thought you'd never ask!"

The next fifteen minutes were ... well, quite pleasant, all things considered. Gabriel (for apparently it was Gabriel, and that explained a lot - Aziraphale had heard a lot of rumours over the past couple of centuries, about how this particular archangel was supposedly on a mission in deep-cover, or some such. Given the poor dear's rather sluggish deceptive instincts, Aziraphale thought it was something much simpler - Gabriel made a poor agent, but a rather excellent criminal-on-the-run ...) was charming and vaguely threatening by turns, and quite shockingly earthy in some places (really, there were some things a gentleman, no matter what his species, simply did not share!), but overall a very amusing and friendly companion. A friendly companion who was quite capable of smashing Aziraphale to literal atoms, perhaps, but Adam was more than capable of that too, and after a certain amount of time one learned to let go the constant threat to one's existence, and simply enjoy the company.

Until, that is, he saw a familiar figure halt outside the teashop, sunglasses at half-mast as he grimaced faintly in fond exasperation for the choice of venue, and designer suit just a little more creased than normal after their ... after their morning adventures, as it were. Crowley must only now have gotten out of the bed, the lazy bastard ... though now, sensing Gabriel tense slowly beside him, a coiling spring, he could wish his demon had been just that little bit lazier again.

Very slowly, very carefully, he tightened his palm around the pebble in his pocket. A little gift from Adam, which Aziraphale had taken care to ask him for, very cautiously and very circumspectly, and been suitably surprised when the then-sixteen year old had handed it over, ready-made years since, in the first rush of fear after the almost-apocalypse. Adam had smiled secretly, casting a half-amused, half-protective glance at the demon loitering at his gate, and pressed it into Aziraphale's hand. Against the future, he'd said, rather pompously for a second before snickering at himself. Just in case.

Aziraphale didn't think he'd meant it in case of possibly-fugitive archangels accosting them in a teashop, but given Adam, you never knew. And either way, he was glad of it now.

Crowley came in, a liquid flow from sunlight into shade, a bright sneer as he hooked his sunglasses low on his nose to take in the room. And then, as he caught sight of them, of the archangel tight and tense at Aziraphale's side ... then his demon's features lost all colour, lost all hint of grin, and Crowley was moving inside a split second. Not away from them, as so many people would expect of him, rather cruelly in Aziraphale's opinion. Not back out into the street where he was free to run (and make no mistake, Crowley could run when he had to), but straight for them, his features pale as bone china and a hand about as brittle reaching for Aziraphale.

His demon didn't leave him in danger. His demon would never leave him in danger.

"Don't move," Crowley hissed urgently, his hand locking around Aziraphale's arm, preventing him from pulling out Adam's little gift, and turned desperate eyes on the archangel next to them. "Gabriel, you bastard, as you value your head, don't move!"

The archangel blinked at him, long and slow, one hand half-raised in the air and poised as if to snap his fingers (why?), but obeyed. More in surprise than anything else, Aziraphale thought, and he did understand that. Oh, he did understand that.

"Dearest?" he murmured, gently but pointedly, and moved his wrist carefully in Crowley's grasp. The demon tightened his fingers reflexively, and snarled a little at him. He stopped, frowning up at him.

"Okay, you," Crowley snapped, pointing at Gabriel with his free hand, ignoring the slight tremor in it. "The angel is a friend, he won't sell you out, don't do anything stupid. And you!" He spun back to Aziraphale before either he or the archangel could comment, although Gabriel was beginning to look less like he wanted to speak, and more like he wanted to snicker at them. It was the lines around his eyes. In the last quarter of an hour, Aziraphale had gotten quite good at reading those lines, and right now they were telling him that Gabriel was very, very carefully refraining from falling over laughing at something. Most probably them. But Crowley was speaking again, so he didn't ask.

"Angel," his demon murmured, golden eyes shining desperately, hand very tight around his wrist and the hand holding Adam's surprise. "Look. I'm really sorry I didn't tell you before, and I promise I'll explain later, but Gabriel is a friend, and probably not about to kill us, so please, don't knock him out and temporarily cripple him, because I really don't feel like hiding out in Antarctica for a couple of centuries until he calms down again. Ah. Okay?"

Aziraphale blinked, long and slow, and very carefully loosened his fingers and let the pebble fall back into his pocket. Very carefully, while trying not to smile at the very earnest expression on his demon's face, and the suddenly very blank one on the archangel's.

Oh dear, these two. They really were going to have to work on that.

"Temporarily ... temporarily cripple?" Gabriel asked tentatively, as he watched Crowley relax and let go of Aziraphale's hand (and wave surreptitiously at the crowd behind them, silently convincing them that they hadn't seen anything, and still didn't). The archangel had a very ... odd expression on his face, as if he wanted to laugh at the joke, but suddenly wasn't sure if it was meant to be funny. Crowley grimaced.

"A gift," Aziraphale murmured gently, smiling up at him, and glancing slyly over at the archangel. "From a friend. A little ... equaliser, you might call it. It's not easy being in love with a demon in the current climate, you know. And Adam ... well. I think he wanted to look out for us." He smiled beatifically, and watched the archangel gulp.

Crowley, a little paler than a second ago, just shook his head. "Yes, Adam as in Anti-Christ. Yes, it can take down archangels, or could, theoretically. And yes, he did just say the L-word, and no, I'm not going to disagree with him, and yes, Gabriel, if you make something of it, I will fish out his little toy, and I will use it on you. Any questions?"

Gabriel blinked at him for a little second, at the hand Aziraphale had caught gently in his and squeezed proudly, at the dangerous little smirk he knew was curling across his features ... and then the archangel grinned, a little faintly, and waved for Crowley to sit down with them.

"Whatever you say, demon," Gabriel purred, with a smirk that promised much mocking in the future, and Aziraphale felt himself relax. Not the light guard of the game, of playful negotiations between almost-enemies and foreign agents, but the deeper relaxation of the company of friends.

Perhaps his day wasn't going to be quite so bad after all.