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Afternoon Tea at the Garden Bar

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Everyone’s wearing sundresses.

Crowley’s is raw silk, black, absorbing most of the light that hits it and giving back just the faintest shimmer. V-necked, sleeveless, it falls from her shoulders to mid-calf in just enough of an A-line to leave her long legs unhindered, but somehow manages to skim her hips as well. Red hair, styled in loose curls, cascades to the middle of her back.

Anathema’s wearing summer-sky blue, but not daytime blue. It’s a deeper color, richer, like late August evenings. Tiny, fabric-covered buttons close the front from her collarbones down to a fitted waist. A demure ruffle curves from the waist to circle the hem. Bell sleeves stop at her elbows, showing off forearms and hands. She’s put her hair up today, her bared neck all elegance.

Aziraphale’s in tailored linen, sleeveless with a sailor collar and a small bow at the neckline. It’s the color of summer wheat, with narrow, darker brown stripes providing contrast at the shoulders, collar, and hem. Her pale hair is sunshine above it.

No one’s bothered to change their shape, but it doesn’t matter. A girls’ day out sounded like fun when Anathema suggested it, so everyone’s a girl today. She told them both they didn’t need to dress the part, there’s no rule about what girls have to look like. But Aziraphale decided it would be fun to look at dresses and fell in love with the one she’s wearing. Crowley told him (still “him,” at the time) that he looked nice, absolutely refused to try anything on himself, and then turned up at the bookshop in low heels and what looked like it would probably be next season’s couture.

They’re sitting outside in the garden bar at the Ritz. Perfectly trimmed topiary and olive trees make a green background for planters full of brightly colored geraniums. A cloth umbrella offers protection from the sun. It isn’t really needed, because the sky has been overcast all day. But the clouds don’t matter, not when there’s lovely tea and good food and planning to be done for Anathema’s wedding.

Not that she can’t plan her own wedding. But when you have an angel and a demon in your corner it’s wise to get their opinions. Aziraphale for ideas about comfort and coziness and demonstrating love, of course. But Crowley even more so, because she knows exactly which wedding traditions are really, really annoying.

“No Macarena,” Crowley says, and Anathema already knows this, but what she didn’t know is that since that song debuted in 1993 it’s been responsible for enough white-hot anger, accrued in fractional elements one mildly annoyed wedding guest at a time, to keep the fires of Hell burning for 32,412 hours or 3.7 years.

“The Chicken Dance is all right, though,” Aziraphale says, looking up for a moment before returning her attention to admiring the pink sugar-dusted pastries in front of her.

“Yeah,” Crowley agrees. “Chicken Dance is OK.” She shrugs, picks up her champagne glass. “Don’t ask me why.”

They’re having afternoon tea. Anathema called ahead to choose the menu, and a waiter has brought them a three-tiered plate stand filled with scones dotted with sweet, bright fruit. Macarons in candy colors, tarts with tiny, perfectly sliced strawberries. But also, leaf-shaped cookies of darkest chocolate, coated in a thin layer of shiny black frosting. Tiny pastries rolled in poppy seeds. Dainty slices of devil’s food cake.

There are finger sandwiches with cucumber on the finest white bread, and also on rich, dark brown pumpernickel. Crowley grins at the demon-colored dainties, placed within easy reach, then stretches an arm across the table and grabs a cream puff from Aziraphale’s side.

“No canning jar centerpieces,” Crowley says, and pauses to lick cream off her fingers. “That wasn’t even my idea. Apparently management’s finally telling people to modernize.” She shudders. “Every time some merchant soils their soul by overcharging for those things, Hastur, Duke of Hell, gets another star on the big star chart thing.”

Anathema sets down her teacup. “Tell me there is not actually a star chart on the wall of Hell.”

“Well, there’s a chart,” says Crowley darkly, “and things get stuck to it. But they’re not stars.”

Anathema decides not to ask for details.

“And for god’s sake don’t have the reception in a barn,” Crowley adds. “That one was mine. Sorry about that,” she says, speaking to the tables around them. A few people look over, have no idea what she’s talking about, and go back to their tea.

“I’m sure whatever you do, it will be lovely.” Aziraphale beams across the table at Anathema, while Crowley takes advantage of the moment to steal the last bite of strawberry tart from Aziraphale’s plate.

“I’m sure it will,” Anathema smiles back. “As long as there’s love, we can’t go wrong. Right?”

Aziraphale’s gaze slips for a moment over to Crowley, who’s leaning back in her chair, champagne flute in hand, head tilted up a bit to catch the sunlight that’s just now peeking through the clouds. Then she seems to remember herself, attention back on Anathema. “Yes. As long as there’s love, you can’t go wrong.”