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Pavlova and an Elementary Truth

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Early on, they'd meet for their annual get together somewhere quiet and out of the way. The edge of a clearing in the deep, deep forest where no human had ventured, or in the ruins of a civilization fallen long ago and not yet rediscovered.

"Rather quiet year," Aziraphale would remark.

"Quite. D'you think something might happen soon?"

"No way to tell. We'll just keep on."

"Right then. See you next year?"

"Of course, Crowley. Take care of yourself."

And that would be it. Soon (relatively speaking, of course), things start happening rapidly. They move their yearly meetings up to twice-yearly, and then seasonally.

"I'm very happy about restaurants," Crowley says, not for the first time, while they wait to be seated at the extravagant place he picked. When it's Aziraphale's turn to pick, they end up at far-flung corners eating anything imaginable, or else just sipping tea out of paper cups from the stand across from the bookshop. Crowley always opts for flash and expensive wine.

Aziraphale picks at an invisible piece of lint on his lapel. "You've mentioned."

"I thought you'd be more enthused. Remember that time, where were we, some desert?"

"The Gobi." Aziraphale doesn't need to hear anything else to know which story this is going to be. He supremely dislikes this story, but Crowley insists on revisiting it, time and time again.

"Yes, and just as you turned to leave, that thing charged out of the darkness at you, remember?"

"Yes, I remember."

"Scared you so bad you nearly jumped into my arms."

Poor creature was nearly as startled to see them as Aziraphale had been to see it. Embarrassing, all around, especially since Crowley found it so delightful. Still, it was the only terribly thing that happened that entire century, so Aziraphale secretly can't blame him.

"It was a wild ass. Much like yourself," Aziraphale says, trying to put on a frosty stare.

"Gentlemen," says the smooth-voiced host, sliding into their conversation with an arched eyebrow. "Your table is ready."

Crowley peruses the wine list until he spots the one he wants. Aziraphale enjoys a glass now and then but he hasn't developed Opinions like Crowley has.

"Celebrating something this evening, gentlemen?" the sommelier asks when he returns.

"Wedding anniversary," Crowley says, and Aziraphale can see the sparkle in his eye. He's developed a fairly decent poker face, associating with Crowley as he does. He doesn't make any correction, just waits placidly to see if there's anything else to go along with this lie, or if it's a lie for lying's sake. The odds are almost always fifty-fifty.

"Splendid, congratulations," says the sommelier as he pours the wine, so red it's almost black.

"Fifteen wonderful years," Crowley adds. He sniffs the wine in his glass and smiles to the man. "Thank you ever so."

"We may get free dessert at the end of this," Crowley says once they're alone again. "The pavlova here is excellent."

"Ah. Of course." This wouldn't be the first time that meringue desserts bring out the impish streak in Crowley.

The conversation flows, as does the wine and food. It is much preferable to meeting in ruins and squaring off against beasts, and shadows, and the elements. Here, indoors and comfortable in a plush and private booth, hey can relax and discuss current events and what each of them has been up to since they last met in summer. As they wrap up their meal, a pavlova is delivered to the table.

"Shall I say 'I told you so'?" Crowley asks, holding out a teaspoon to Aziraphale.

"You absolutely shouldn't." Of course the dessert is just as special as he expects and there's no sense in inflating Crowley's head any bigger at this moment. "There was no need to lie like that to the waiter. You easily could have just ordered it."

"Lie to him like that? What, and actually tell him we've been together for about, oh, fifty-five hundred years or so, give or take another five hundred?" Crowley finishes the last bite of pavlova with an odd smile.

"Together is not the same as married," Aziraphale exclaims. He holds further comment until he's shrugged into his jacket and they're leaving the restaurant.

Outside, the air is warm and the night feels young. Crowley sets off walking and Aziraphale follows. There's a bridge looking over a slow-moving river not far from the restaurant. Looking out over the water is a peaceful place to stop.

"Marriage is a human rite," Crowley says, which is a strange sentence on it's own. "We're definitely not married."

"As I said," Aziraphale agrees.

"But we may as well be. We're sort of in this together, through thick and thin, better and worse. Right?" Crowley looks at him sideways with that odd smile again.

"You're saying we're contractually obligated to associate one another."

"Ah, you angels, always know the sweetest thing to say. No, not contractually obligated. We've been given a job, yes, but you must admit we spend more time together than we strictly need to. I daresay you enjoy it as much I do."

A feeling is creeping up Aziraphale's spine, nesting into his brain and trying to form into a thought. "I might."

"And if we were released from our duties, such as they are, adn we were never to see each other again…"

"Part of the job."

"Yes, obviously, but if that were to happen, I think I'd be a bit disappointed. Wouldn't you?"

"Disappointed…" Aziraphale tests the word out, recalls the notion of disappointment in his mind to try it on briefly. "Yes, I suppose I might be."

"And one more question. Indulge me for one moment." Crowley turns to him, raising one hand to the grey cotton of Aziraphale's lapel. His eyes dart to Aziraphale's mouth and he leans in. Every single movement telegraphs what he's about to do. Aziraphale is keenly aware of what the 'question' is going to end up being, unspoken, but the meaning clear as crystal.

His answer is similarly concise.

The physical form he's taken for the last few millennia still feels foreign to Aziraphale in moments like this when he's trying to get a feel for some new task or motion. Learning to swim had taken the better part of decade.

Kissing is not like learning to swim, other than needing to remember to breathe air from the proper place. On the whole, it requires slightly less coordination and Aziraphale is feeling a lot more enjoyment from even attempting to learn it.

"Now, how's that for contractually obligated?" Crowley asks when he pulls away. His odd smile seems permanently affixed now and Aziraphale leans in and kisses it in hopes it will disappear.

It works, Crowley laughs, and tucks his arm under Aziraphale's to continue their meandering walk through the city until they come to the familiar window stacked with old, dusty books.

"I have rather a lot to consider," Aziraphale says later, when the sun starts to come up again like it usually does. Their jackets are folded neatly over the back of a chair and Aziraphale thinks his hair feels quite a bit more tousled than normal. Crowley's fingers are tangled in his, a strange sensation when their pulses meet.

"I imagined you would. Take all the time you need. I also imagine I might see you again, before we're meant to meet for tea in December." Crowley stands and flips his jacket over one shoulder.

"You imagine a lot," Aziraphale says, cocking one eyebrow. "That could get you into trouble later on."

Crowley's laugh echoes around the bookshop, even as he steps out the door.