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der sheyneh bisl shlang

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Aziraphale sat down in a chair that was already pulled out for him, wincing at the creak of the old wood. He murmured a quiet “Thank you” as he reached for a napkin to place on his lap. His wine was set out on the table, as it always was, in an opaque ceramic glass. There had always been a tacit agreement at Varnishkes that obtaining a liquor license would be an unnecessary burden; it was much easier to covertly serve certain regulars their alcohol of choice. Those certain regulars were Aziraphale and Crowley.

The waitress, Sally, nodded a response to Aziraphale’s thanks. “Sure thing,” she said brightly. “Are the bosses expecting you?”

“No, I didn’t call ahead this time. Didn’t want to bother them.” Aziraphale looked up at her, the warmth of his smile not quite reaching his eyes.

Sally nodded. “Right. They’ll be out to say hello. And are you… expecting anyone else?” Her eyes flickered involuntarily to the bench opposite him, the alien emptiness of it.

“Not today,” Aziraphale said. “Just me. I was in the mood for Kerry’s lasagne soup, decided to stop in on a whim.” This was true. On his way to Crowley’s flat to pick up a scarf that he’d carelessly forgotten, the angel realized how close the restaurant was, and a craving developed rather swiftly. Crowley hadn’t been at home, so Aziraphale had let himself in, grabbed the scarf, and commenced his mission to acquire soup.

Sally thought Crowley’s absence was concerning, but she kept it to herself. “Well, we’re always glad to see you here, sir. I’ll have that soup right out for you.” She flashed a blinding smile and spun around to return to the kitchen before Aziraphale had the chance to scold her for calling him “sir.”

He took a sip of his wine, a Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Mouline, and smiled quietly to himself. He had taken it upon himself to keep the diner stocked in alcohol, partially so they didn’t have to incur the expense themselves or answer for it on tax forms, but mostly because wine was one of many things on which his tastes could not be bent. Aziraphale insisted on a good wine, even as a companion to a midnight cheese toastie. He savored the scent of the wine for a moment before setting the cup down, just in time for two jovial figures to appear.

“Moishe, Judy. Good afternoon,” Aziraphale said. He pressed a kiss to the lady’s hand and gestured for them to have a seat in the booth across from him.

“Aziraphale! What a nice surprise!” Moishe smiled, but ignored the invitation to sit. “How are things at the bookshop?”

“Good, good. I haven’t sold a thing in weeks.” The angel raised his eyebrows conspiratorially.

Crowley had been known, on their visits to the diner and other public places, to rant loudly about the terrible service he received at A.Z. Fell & Co., the mold on the walls, and the large rats he saw scurrying across the floor. Aziraphale was not proud of it, but he had been known to encourage this behavior. Never explicitly, but he always gave himself away with a small smile.

Judy put her hands on her hips in much the same way a disappointed mother does. “Where is your better half, kaddishel?”

“He -- he's not my better half,” Aziraphale sputtered ungracefully. “He’s not my anything. And he’s not better, either. He's a pain.”

“Did you two have a fight?” Judy put a sympathetic hand on Aziraphale’s shoulder.

Aziraphale rolled his eyes like someone who had explained this so many times before and was now being asked to go through it again, slower this time. Which was exactly what he was doing. Judy had never quite understood the unique relationship between Crowley and himself, but she had a very persistent idea in her head. It was difficult to set that particular record straight without explaining the immortal adversary situation, or the six thousand years of something that had led to their current something, so Aziraphale usually settled for vague protests and long-suffering sighs.

“We didn’t have a fight, Judy, he’s just not here right now,” he said patiently, without looking up at her.

Moishe frowned. “I’m sure you’ll work it out, son.”

“You boys are so sweet together,” Judy added. “Whatever this problem is, you need to fix it.”

Aziraphale felt the familiar combination of fondness and irritation at the couple’s advice. They meant well, they always meant well, but he couldn’t help wondering if they actually ignored him on purpose or if they were simply oblivious. Not to mention that the strong parental tone of their conversation felt patronizing to an ethereal being who had several millennia on them.

“Yes, yes,” he said absently. “I’ll get right on that.”

Judy put a hand on Aziraphale’s shoulder and squeezed gently, looking at him like she was expecting him to start crying at any moment. She and Moishe shared a sympathetic, knowing look and went to go check on another table, leaving Aziraphale to his thoughts.

It occurred to him, vaguely, that he didn’t know where Crowley was, hadn’t heard from him at all today. This was no cause for alarm; it was only one o’clock in the afternoon, Crowley had a life of his own, and Aziraphale wasn’t just waiting around all day for him to call. They did things without each other every now and then. They could go half a day without speaking. Aziraphale just wanted to sit down in a restaurant that felt like home and enjoy a bowl of lasagne soup without getting the third degree about his non-existent relationship.

Well, non-existent was a strong word, even Aziraphale had to admit. Certainly, he and Crowley were closer than most friends, but he figured he could attribute that to the fact that they had known each other, and been each other’s only source of real companionship, for the length of one hundred human lifetimes, give or take. Whatever it was between them, Aziraphale knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was not the average human relationship that Judy and Moishe Behrmann thought it was. It was something else, something indefinable, unspeakable. And as long as it went undefined and unspoken, Aziraphale was in the dark as to what, exactly, he should call it.

He was saved from that particular line of thought by the sound of a blood-curdling shriek from the kitchen. Well, it would have been enough to curdle human blood, but Aziraphale had heard a lot of screams in his six thousand years, and he’d learned to differentiate between them with a fair amount of accuracy. This cry did not curdle his angelic blood, but it did inspire a small amount of concern. It was the kind of noise one makes upon spotting a spider nearby, a sound of shock and light panic, but not a response to any sincere danger.

Following the muffled sound of frantic conversation, Aziraphale turned his attention toward the source of the distress. He watched as Moishe and Judy emerged from the kitchen, speaking in hushed tones.

“Nie możemy mieć węża w kuchni, szalony!” Moishe shook his head, exasperated, and ran a hand through his hair.

Judy frowned. “Ale to takie śliczne mały wąż!”

“Excuse me, what did you say?” Aziraphale leapt into action, nearly tripping over himself in his hurry to get to the kitchen, hoping that he had misheard them, or that his Polish was getting rusty.

“Oh, it’s nothing, zeeskeit, don’t you worry about it,” Judy attempted to reassure him. “We will take care of it.”

“No!” Aziraphale cleared his throat, pulled at his sleeve, relaxed his shoulders a bit. “I mean. I can get it. I, erm, have experience. I’ll get it to somewhere safe.”

Moishe and Judy looked at him with matching expressions of disbelief. “That’s very kind of you, son,” Moishe said, moving out of the way to allow Aziraphale access to the kitchen.

The angel nodded his thanks as he pushed past them and through the swinging double doors. He took one sweeping look around the room, and his eyes quickly fell on a large freezer, and particularly on the gap beneath it where a small reptile might be able to fit.

“You can come out,” he said, keeping his voice low. “It's just me.”

Nothing happened, save a light ripple in the air that would have been imperceptible to the human eye. Aziraphale folded his arms tight across his chest and let out a frustrated sigh.

“I hope you’re not waiting for me to get on the floor and look for you,” he said dryly, “because I won’t do it. Please come out before Moishe calls an exterminator.”

There was an airy, sibilant sigh, and then a small black snake emerged from the space under the freezer. He looked up at Aziraphale, almost sheepish, and his tongue flickered out nervously. Aziraphale picked him up with one hand and reached for his wallet with the other as he walked back out to the waiting owners of the restaurant.

“Here you are,” he said, placing some cash on the counter, “thanks for lunch.”

Judy eyed him with a healthy mixture of amusement and surprise on her face. “You didn’t eat anything,” she reminded him. “Oh, look at the poor thing. How lucky you were here to help,” she added, gesturing to the snake settled comfortably around Aziraphale’s wrist. She leaned in to look at it closer, cooing, “Sheyneh bisl shlang.”

Aziraphale offered a warm smile. “It’s my pleasure, Judy, really. I must be off, have to, er. Get the reptile to somewhere that reptiles belong. I’ll take a rain check on lunch.” He shuffled off to a chorus of goodbyes and thanks from the staff, leaving the money on the counter for the food he didn’t get to eat.

It only made sense to go back to Crowley’s flat, and to his credit, Aziraphale made it all the way there before beginning to berate the demon, lest anyone on the street see him scolding a snake and think him strange for it. Once inside, the angel set him down on the counter, where Crowley changed back into his human form. He cleared his throat, straightened his tie, and leaned back, eyeing Aziraphale apprehensively.

“We love that place,” the angel began sternly. “We love that place!”

Crowley nodded. “That we do.”

“So why? What could compel you to do this? It wasn’t funny, I’ll tell you that.”

“I wasn’t trying to be funny,” the demon mumbled, looking down. “Was an accident.”

“How do you accidentally turn into a snake and sneak into a kitchen?”

“Was sleeping,” Crowley said, nearly inaudible by this point. He was desperately avoiding Aziraphale’s gaze, but what the angel could see of his face was burning red.

Aziraphale cocked his head and wrinkled his brow, confusion and curiosity overtaking annoyance on his list of priorities. “What are you talking about?”

Crowley shifted uncomfortably, crossing and uncrossing his legs, before settling back into his original position. He folded his hands primly in his lap, his grip perhaps too tight. “I fell asleep,” he said through his teeth, “all wrapped up in your scarf. You didn’t notice, I guess. Maybe you didn’t wear it? I dunno. Woke up when you took your coat off, I think, and then I… was trying to get out without anyone noticing.”

The angel barked out a small laugh, and immediately regretted it as he watched Crowley shrink into himself. “Oh, my dear, I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “It’s just. It is a silly situation, isn’t it? No harm done, I suppose.”

“Mm,” Crowley grunted.

“You are okay, right?”

“Yeah. Just… no, I’m okay.”

Aziraphale stepped closer, settling a reassuring hand on the demon’s knee, and looked up into his eyes. “Crowley,” he said softly, “what’s wrong?”

“Do you really think I’m a pain?”

Caught off guard, Aziraphale couldn’t help another small laugh. He atoned for it by leaning forward, resting his chin on Crowley’s leg, and taking his hand. “Of course not,” he said fondly. “Well, not most of the time.”

Crowley melted slightly into the angel’s touch, softening his posture and releasing a long-held breath. “Why would you say that, then? You never talk like that when I’m there.”

“I don’t know. I was just… deflecting, I suppose.” Aziraphale paused. “Get defensive against all those assumptions and questions that Judy and Moishe always have.”

“Like the assumption that we’re. You know. Together.”

“Yes, like that.”

Crowley rubbed a thumb along the back of the angel’s hand, his eyes fixed on their intertwined fingers. “Would it be so bad?”

Aziraphale lifted his head, searching the demon’s face for a hint of mirth, finding none. “What?”

“Would it be so bad, if we were? Together?”

“No.” The answer came from somewhere deep inside Aziraphale and left his mouth of its own accord, but as soon as it did, he knew how true it was. He fixed his gaze on Crowley’s eyes again before repeating himself. “No, it wouldn’t.”

Crowley let his free hand gravitate to the angel’s cheek, gently pulling him back up to his full height, and leaned down to meet him in a warm, chaste kiss. Aziraphale made a soft noise of surprise that changed halfway through into a thing of joy.

When they separated, their faces hovering less than an inch apart, there were only a few brief seconds of quiet eye contact before the angel couldn’t take it anymore. He moved in for a second kiss, deeper and messier, and Crowley responded with enthusiasm. Scooting forward on the counter, he pulled Aziraphale closer in between his legs, his long fingers twisting their way into curly hair as the angel’s plump hands settled on his thighs.

Aziraphale seized an opportunity and nipped at Crowley’s lower lip, eliciting a low moan from the demon. He pulled back, ignoring a whine of protest from Aziraphale, and proceeded to kiss the angel’s cheeks, his jaw, his eyelids. “You taste like fancy wine,” he murmured against the flushed skin of Aziraphale’s neck.

Aziraphale smiled. “You taste like snake.”

“You like it,” Crowley retorted.

“I do,” Aziraphale admitted shamelessly.

Crowley grinned and began leaving a line of kisses from Aziraphale’s throat up to his forehead, savoring each moment of contact. He pressed a long kiss to the top of the angel’s head and chuckled. “For the record,” he added, “I am your better half.”