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Snake In the Blue

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The first few days after the apoca-wasn't flew by in a haze for the angel and his demonic companion. There was, after all, a lot worth celebrating.

They went from one hedonistic temptation to the next. They dined at restaurants both famous and unknown, from the Ritz to a tiny, family owned place that Aziraphale said made the best crepes this side of the English Channel. The went to see The Frogs at the West End, and the Royal Philharmonic at the Albert Hall. They consumed obscene amounts of alcohol, the finest wines followed by aged single malt scotch and then back to champagne the next day.

Crowley drove them Stratford where they strolled along the Avon tossing seeds at a growing entourage of ducks. There were cream teas in the afternoon sun, and dinner in a quaint little pub. Then it was off to the RSC to watch the evening’s production of Twelfth Night. Their hands met on the shared armrest during the Willow Cabin speech, littlest fingers brushing against each other, and lingered, unmoving, throughout Antonio and Sebastian’s declarations of love. Aziraphale felt like he might burst into flame, right there in the theatre. But then Sir Toby returned, and Crowley fell about laughing and moved away, and the spell was mercifully broken.

They headed back to London after dark. Aziraphale gripped the edges of his seat with white knuckles, his brand new heart thumping in his chest, while Crowley sang along to “Don’t stop me now” completely oblivious. It was perfect.

When they got back to the bookshop, Aziraphale found he couldn't bear the idea of his friend going home, so he invited him in with the promise of alcohol. Crowley, who didn't want to be parted either but was reluctant to admit it, agreed a little too quickly. They got exceedingly drunk. So drunk that Aziraphale felt relaxed enough to leave his personal chair and join Crowley on the small sofa. He sat very straight at first, holding his wine glass in both hands, but as the night wore on, his posture softened.

"Olivia's a beard!" Crowley declared suddenly.

"I beg your pardon?"

"She's just a beard. Orsino doesn't really love her, he's only courting her because he knows she'll say no. Why else would he agree to marry Viola so suddenly?"

"Orsino is utterly in love, he's pining away for her the entire play."

"Yeah, right up until the end, where he marries the chick who makes a very convincing boy."

"Are you saying he's- what are you saying?"

"That Osino… Orsino fancies Cesario all along. He's not interested in girly girls. He prefers someone a bit more in between-y."

"Like you, you mean."

Crowley's mouth opened wide. "Do you think Will found inspiration in me? Do you think maybe he liked me a little bit?"

"I think Will had a lot of young lads dressed up as women and not all of them were that cinviss- blievble- and so sometimes he wrote them parts where they pretended to be men. And because it creates oppa- pa- tunities for missstaken dentitty farce!"

"Yes, but think about it, really. It's just gender bending all over the shop. Orsino doesn't want to marry a girl, and Shakespeare fancied my feminininine side."

"You're drunk and you're talking nonsense."

Crowley was in fact so drunk that remaining vertical became more of a challenge, and his head slowly sank down until it was resting in the angel's lap. He felt gentle fingers in his hair and closed his eyes. They spent the whole night talking about all the wonderful things that would just keep going now that the world wasn't ending, and they were both deliriously happy. And although neither of them needed to sleep, they were so comfortable and content that they dozed together until the sun high in the sky.

***

Aziraphale woke first, getting up carefully so as to avoid waking his friend, and heading out to search for an appropriate breakfast. There was a small bakery nearby that made delicious pastries that Crowley had previously enjoyed. When he returned, the demon was curled up on the sofa.

"Good morning, my dear!" he called. He received only a mumble in response. "I've brought you some breakfast. I thought maybe we could visit the park later, have that picnic we talked about."

"Hmmm. Cheers." Crowley took an apple danish and nibbled it without any sign of pleasure. He threw nearly half of it back in the box.

"Is something amiss?"

"Nothing to worry about." He rubbed at his face and his mood seemed to lighten a bit. "Got a basket?"

Aziraphale went to rummage around for one in the back room and they set off to their favourite spot. Crowley laid their blanket under a tree and reclined on it. Aziraphale pulled all sorts of wonders out of the basket, and watched Crowley's smile grow as the items got for more and more preposterous. The fully functional, three tiered chocolate fountain finally got him to laugh.

"That's better. You looked like you needed cheering up."

"See, that's what I call proper magic, Mary Poppins style."

"It does feel a bit like cheating though."

"It's not cheating. Besides you're allowed to cheat now, you're free and unaffiliated."

"That doesn't mean I should abandon all moral restraint."

"Moral restraint? The angel who's dipping a Chelsea bun in the chocolate fountain?"

Aziraphale paused. "Perhaps I'll just loosen my moral restraint a little."

"At this rate, you'll be loosening your waistband a little."

Crowley chatted and joked for the rest of the meal, but he only took small samples of a few things and ate then slowly. That in itself wasn’t unusual, but there was a strain to his smile, a tightness in his movements. Something was decidedly off. In a moment of boldness, Aziraphale reached for his hand, intending to ask him about it, but he flinched and pulled away quickly.

"Crowley… is this about last night? Was it too… I don't know." He looked away, confused and uncertain.

"It's not that. Last night was fun. We're good at having fun."

"Fun," he repeated flatly.

"Yes. Fun." Crowley smirked. "You're my fun buddy."

Aziraphale picked up a scone and smothered it in clotted cream. "Righty-ho," he said, and stuffed it in his mouth in three quick bites. He was in turmoil. He'd taken a risk last night, put himself forward, switched it up a gear. And now, with a small appetite and a few words, Crowley had been the one to put on the brakes. And he hadn't the foggiest idea why.

Except that something still wasn't right. Over the last few days, they'd been more relaxed around each other, holding eye contact, sitting nearer, walking closer and sharing small, fleeting touches. The moment in the theatre wasn’t the only time that their hands brushed together and at one point Crowley had wiped a spot of cream from his chin. When he’d woken, around noon, with the demon’s head in his lap, Aziraphale had sat there, stroking his hair, and decided that today would be the day. They would have the picnic they'd been putting off so long, and afterwards, they would walk hand in hand around the park.

That plan appeared to be going up in a bigger plume of smoke than the one that rose from the Bentley at the airfield.

Crowley was keeping a clear two foot between them at all times.

Aziraphale finally gave up and packed all the food away again. It didn’t have quite the same appeal with Crowley so distant, physically and emotionally. "Perhaps it's best if we head back before it rains," he suggested.

"Who says it's going to rain?"

"It's England, it always rains."

Crowley looked up at a bright blue sky, scattered with candy floss clouds. "Perhaps you're right."

"I'm sure your plants will need some attention. You've neglected them the last few days."

"Angel, don't do that. Don't go all uppity. We're having a lovely time."

"Are we?"

"Look at this wonderful world that hasn't ended. This tree that's still standing. Those flowers and tiny buzzy bees that are decidedly not blown up into smithereens." He pointed at each thing in an accusing manner, as if they had somehow offended him with their continued existence.

"Yes. I'm sure it's all quite beautiful."

"What's wrong, Angel?"

"I could ask you the same thing."

Crowley looked away, picking at the grass. "To say we’ve just been through something huge would be abusing understatement. Epic levels of stress. Surely it's understandable that emotions are just running a tad high. We'll be fine once things settle down."

"That's all it is? Post-non-apocalyptic trauma? There's nothing… nothing gone wrong with us?"

"What could there possibly be to get between us now? We've faced everything already, and we've won."

"So… you're not thinking of going separate ways?" He pulled out his pocket watch and wound it, just for something to do with hands.

"Don't be an idiot. I… I mean of course not."

"So you'll stay?"

Crowley's brow furrowed like he was in pain. "If that's what you want."

Aziraphale nodded. "Let's head back to the bookshop."

***

Crowley stayed, but he got more crotchety as the week went on. He refused any offers of food; he barely drank any wine. He still kept his distance, and seemed more reluctant to go out day by day. Eventually Aziraphale's worry was too much, and he spoke to him.

"What's wrong? And don't tell me it's nothing, you've been curled up in the corner of the settee for two whole days. You're not even sprawling."

"It really is nothing," he snapped back.

Aziraphale knelt in front of him. "Crowley, look at me. And take those blasted things of your face, you don't need to hide from me." When the demon made no move, Aziraphale flicked his fingers downwards and the sunglasses vanished. Crowley stared blankly for a second and then snapped a new pair into place. But not before the angel had seen.

Where golden eyes should have been glaring at him, there was only a cloudy shade of blue.

"Crowley, my dear! That's not nothing. Tell me, please." He reached for his hand, but Crowley pulled back as he felt the touch.

"I'm fine. It's temporary. I'll be back to my old self next week and we can forget all about it."

"What is it? Is it a demon thing? Is that why you won't talk to me?"

He squirmed. "If you must know, it's a snake thing. And I know I'm being a terrible git, but I just need you to be patient and give me some space and everything will be okay."

"If that's what you want. But I wish you'd let me help."

"There's not a lot you can do. Why don't you go out and get some lunch. Give yourself a break. Give me a break from your constant hovering and fussing."

Aziraphale nodded. "All right. I'll see you later," he said quietly.

He locked the shop behind him, but he didn't have much of an appetite. He decided just to let himself wander, trying not to worry. It didn't work. The image of those eyes haunted him, the blank look, the unfamiliar shade of blue…

He looked in the shop windows, seeing fashions and technology that he could never quite seem to keep up with. And then he found himself staring through the glass at a beautiful, small white rabbit, the kind that would be just right for pulling out of a hat. Perhaps he could just pop in for a quick look.

Inside, the shop went back a long way. It was a veritable emporium of pets. There were fish, and rodents, and further back, reptiles. Snakes.

Aziraphale stood gazing in fascination at the dappled scales, black and yellow slowly twirling and looping around itself. It was hypnotising. He startled slightly when a voice spoke behind him.

"Can I help you, sir?"

"Oh, I do hope so." He turned to see a woman with bright blue hair and metal all over her face. There were pictures of snakes on her arms and shoulders.

"Are you interested in a snake? They make great companions."

"That they do," he smiled for the first time that day. "Although mine seems to have gotten himself into quite the grump recently. I mean, he's not really mine, but I've found myself looking after him."

She frowned. "Some friend got bored and dumped him in you? People are so irresponsible. I might be able to help, if you need some advice."

"At this point, I'm willing to try anything."

"What's the matter with him?"

"He's tetchy. He's not himself. He won't let me near him anymore. And he's not eating. Not that he ever are much, but I can't tempt him to anything. He just curls up in the corner and sulks all the time. It's very unlike him."

"Have you changed anything in his environment lately? No drop in temperature, nothing new that might be upsetting him?"

"He seemed happy. Very happy. And then he just changed and I don't know why. I care about him, and I'm frightfully worried. And then this morning, I saw his eyes, and they’d changed. It was eerie."

She gave a friendly smile. "He'll be fine. He's just getting ready to shed."

"He… what?"

"Snakes never stop growing. They shed their skin when it gets too small. I take it this is the first time you've seen it."

Aziraphale let out a deep breath. "That's all it is? He'll be all right?"

"Of course. You just need to be a bit careful with him until he's done. The new skin is sensitive and fragile, so you shouldn't handle him right now. When the eye caps start to loosen, fluid can build up underneath and make it difficult to see. That's why they look cloudy and blue. It can be kinda scary for them."

"Oh, my poor dear! Is there anything I can do? To make it easier for him?"

"Plenty. Come on, I'll fix you up."

***

The woman's advice was good, but Aziraphale knew he'd have to upscale it somewhat. He visited a few more shops for other things, and then miracled the heavier, bulkier items back home when no-one was looking.

When he arrived, Crowley was still exactly where he had left him. A flick of his hand and the bath taps were running upstairs. He went straight over and knelt in front of him.

"You're an idiot. You should have just told me. I could have helped you."

"What?" He grumbled, still frowning.

"I found out what's going on, and I know all about it. Come on, follow me upstairs, we'll get you in a nice warm bath. It's baths every day until you're done."

"Oh Hell, no. This is humiliating." His face disappeared into a cushion.

"There's nothing to be embarrassed about. It's all natural. You can have a nice long soak while I get things ready."

"Things? What things?"

"Things to make it easier for you. Come on, up on your feet. Can you see me?"

"Roughly. You're a beige blur."

Aziraphale let his halo show, a soft glow around his head. "How about now?"

"Hmmff."

"You can hold my coat if it's easier."

"I'm not completely blind, you know, and you're not a golden retriever, even if you look like one."

"Right you are. Come on, then."

Crowley followed slowly. The bath was full by the time he got there, nicely warm but not too hot. After a brief debate which he didn't have the energy to argue, he vanished his clothes and got in.

"All settled? Good. I'll be back in a jiffy."

He left Crowley muttering about the word jiffy and headed downstairs. A few miracles meant it didn't take that long to set up. The tent built itself, there was just about room for it in the central space between the shelves, and then it was simply a matter of putting everything in it. He covered half the groundsheet in damp sheets, and arranged a selection of large rocks and branches all around. He plugged the heat lamp into an extension cord and hung it from the roof poles at one side. He put in plenty of bottled water and a misting sprayer the pet shop owner had sold him, along with a humidity meter and a few other odds and ends. In one corner, he set up a kind of nest of pillows and blankets- not something she'd recommended, but something he thought Crowley might like.

When he was satisfied that everything was in order, he went back upstairs. "How are you feeling?"

"This was a bloody marvellous idea. I feel better than I have in a week."

"I am glad. I was getting worried."

"I have been through this before. Several times, in fact."

"How often does it happen?"

"Once every couple of centuries or so. Varies. I think all the excitement of the last few weeks must have set me off early."

"What do you normally do?"

"In the old days, I used to go off into the jungle. Find a safe space under a fallen tree or somewhere. Once I had my own place it was easier just to shut myself in and wait for it to be over."

Aziraphale wanted very much to stroke him, to reassure him, but he knew it wouldn't help. "Well I hope this will be better. I'm here, whatever you need, just tell me."

"I'll try and remember. As it gets closer, though, it gets harder. The instincts get strong."

"That's fine. I'll look after you."

"Promise?"

"You have my word."

Crowley closed his eyes and sank back until the water covered all but his face. “I should have told you. I should have trusted you, I know, but it never occured to me. I meant to go home after the picnic, when I knew it was coming, and hide away. But then you looked so forlorn, and I couldn’t. And by the time you’d perked up it was too late, I couldn’t see enough to go anywhere, and I was stuck.”

“Crowley, you can tell me anything. You need never go through anything alone, ever again.”

He made a slightly strangled noise and then cleared his throat, but said nothing.

Aziraphale stayed with him, trying to imagine what it must feel like. Probably itchy. Dry.

"I don't suppose I could spend the next week right here?" Crowley asked after a while.

"No. You'll turn into a prune. But I've set up a place for you downstairs, so it should be better."

"Okay. I'll get out. You've got me curious."

Aziraphale handed him a towel and noted the way he patted himself dry with extreme care, before dressing himself in shirt and jeans with a snap. He didn’t bother with the glasses though.

"Watch the steps," Aziraphale said as he guided him once more with the glow.

Crowley's blue eyes peered at the new structure in the middle of the space. "What's that?"

"It's a tent. Come on." He held the flap out of the way as Crowley groped his way inside.

"It's warm!"

"Yes. Optimum temperature and humidity. There's rocks and branches for you to rub against if you need to um… loosen up, as it were. And a soft place if you want to sleep."

"Aziraphale… it's perfect."

"I found someone who knew a lot about it, she was very helpful."

"Yes, but… you didn't have to do this. It's too much."

"Don't be a silly billy. It's what you need. A safe habitat. Make yourself comfortable. I can stay with you if you'd like, or I can leave you to some privacy. Whichever you prefer. There's plenty of things I can get on with in the back room if you'd like some quiet. You can call if you need anything."

"Don't go." He reached towards him, but then drew his hand back again. "I'd be grateful for the company."

Aziraphale gave a short nod and a shy smile. "I could read to you. To pass the time."

"So long as it's something funny."

"Little Dorrit?"

"Sounds about right."

***

The next several days passed a bit more pleasantly than those before. Crowley still got grumpy and short-tempered, but Aziraphale didn't mind so much now that he understood why it was happening. He was remarkably patient and kept being nice even when Crowley complained and insulted him about it. When the hissing started, it was his cue that he'd overstayed his welcome and he’d go off to the back room while the demon slept. He would invariably be summoned back a few hours later, sometimes with a whine, other times with a shout, and talked or read until he was ready to rest again.

The most frustrating thing for Aziraphale was that he constantly wanted to hold him, to soothe him, and he couldn't. He would watch him roll around on the damp sheets, wiggling and kicking his feet, and resist the urge to stroke him to calm him down. If he stood quietly outside the tent, he could hear Crowley dragging himself over the rocks and branches, though he never did it when the angel was watching. He was still self-conscious in spite of everything.

Sometimes Crowley would wake up from his nap and start cursing. Not the demon kind of curses that generated misfortune, or the eloquent kind that belonged in a play from centuries past, but just a stream of filthy expletives that should have made the angel shy away and blush. He would come out with words for excrement and copulation and all varieties of genitalia in any language he could think of and screech them at the top of his lungs. Aziraphale would get the bath running and guide him upstairs, and once he was in the warm water he would gradually quieten.

At last the blue faded from Crowley's eyes and he could see again, but if anything his mood declined further. He couldn't seem to get comfortable anywhere, and made himself into the smallest ball possible on the pile of pillows.

Aziraphale sat near him, reading aloud and pretending he couldn't hear the whines.

"Angel?" Crowley interrupted him.

"Yes dear?"

"You have to tell me something." He stretched and grimaced and curled up again.

"What do you want to know?"

"Something about you. It's not fair. You've got a front row seat to my personal horror show and I want recompense. A few of your dirty secrets."

"I don't know if I have any. Angels aren't particularly big on vices, and those that I do have were mostly introduced to me by you."

"There's got to be something. I bet you snore."

"In order to snore, I'd need to sleep, and I don't do that very often."

"You slept the other night. Can't remember if you snored though."

"That was different. We'd had rather a lot of wine and… Well, sleeping with you is different."

"That wasn't… I suppose technically… nevermind. Come on Angel, give me something."

"The worst one is probably the sword, but you know that already."

"That's hardly news. Might as well tell me you're a glutton and a drunkard. There's got to be one thing that you've never told anyone."

"What about something I've shared with just one person?"

"Sounds promising. Who was it?"

"Oscar Wilde."

"You shagged Oscar Wilde?"

"No of course not, I've never- don't be so crude. We made friends. We would go off to quiet corners, and he'd recite the most beautiful poems to me."

"I bet he fancied you. I bet he was secretly hoping you'd turn around and snog his face off."

"I couldn't say either way. But that's not the secret."

"Oh?" He uncurled a little. "What is it then?"

"I read him one of my own poems. I… I write my own poetry."

"You write… that's perfect. By hell, that's perfect. Of course now you have to read me one."

"Do I?"

"It's only fair. And I need a good laugh."

"You're not allowed to laugh. Have I laughed at your condition?"

"No. Not once."

"So you have to promise not to laugh. Even though it's not very good."

"I promise."

Aziraphale licked his lips and took a deep breath.

“In the dusk, I would dwell forever
Not quite day nor truly night
But in a world where dark meets light
Where it matters not if I'm wrong or right
I would stay and gladly linger.

“On the beach I would make my home
'Twixt lapping waves and verdant lands
I'll spend my days on in the shifting sands
In dreams of a world where we hold hands
And find a peace of belonging.

“Where North greets South and up finds down
In the worlds where edges meet
Where we may touch but must retreat
There our joy will be bitter sweet
For none can bless this union.”

He waited for a response, but none was forthcoming. "At least you're not laughing."

"No, I'm not laughing."

"I know it's nothing special. I know it's a load of sentimental old twaddle."

"If you like, we can put the seaside on our to do list. I'm not exactly Oscar Wilde, but if you like the views I'll take you."

"It's not about the views, it's a metaphor. About being stuck in the middle, on earth." With you.

"So, it's your love poem to the world, then?"

"Something like that."

"Because you can live here, but you won't ever belong, because you're an angel, and you dream of finding a way to be less lonely."

"Yes. Exactly. How did you know?"

"Took a wild stab in the dark. Also, why do you think I've been hanging around you all this time?"

"I used to think you were just trying to corrupt me. Then it was all about the Arrangement. But recently I've come to accept that there's an element of companionship involved too."

"Angel, whatever else is going on between us or around us, you're my best friend. Where else am I going to find someone who'll build me a man-sized vivarium?"

"Yes. I may have gone a bit over the top."

"Not at all." He rolled over and grimaced again.

"You're in pain."

"It's not pain exactly. It's tight and highly uncomfortable."

"Would you like another bath?"

"No. Shouldn't be too much longer now. Maybe I'll just rest a bit."

Aziraphale left him in the tent but lingered close outside, ordering the bookshelves because he had to keep busy. Crowley was quiet for a long time.

"Zira!" The call came softly, breathless.

He left the stack of books on the floor and was there in a moment. "I'm here."

Crowley was on the floor with his head pressed against a rock. He looked terribly pale and thin. "I need to change now."

"That's fine," the angel said softly. "You can change. Do what you need to do."

Nothing happened. Aziraphale took a step closer and knelt down. "What's wrong, my dear?"

"I'm scared."

"There's nothing to fear. I'm here, nothing can hurt you."

"There's always this doubt, right at the back of my mind. What if I can't change back?"

Aziraphale moaned with the need to take him in his arms and make it all better. "Then I'll keep the whole shop warm, and you can curl up in my lap and on my shoulders, and I'll make sure there's always plenty of eggs. Do you like eggs? I've heard that's what snakes eat. Rodents too, but that doesn't sound pleasant at all-"

"Angel."

"Yes?"

"You wouldn't mind?"

"Mind what?"

"If I was stuck as a snake."

"Of course not. I just want to keep you close. Whatever form you take, you're still you."

"I love you," Crowley whispered, and before Aziraphale could reply, he was shifting, melting, his body pouring like liquid into a long, thin mold. His red and black scales looked almost grey, and he was wriggling and writhing. He rubbed his head repeatedly on the rock, until he broke through the unwanted skin, and the only thing Aziraphale could do was watch.

It was fascinating.

As his head emerged, it was bright and shining, like he was being reborn into something new. He moved in circles around the tent, bunching and stretching, muscles undulating. On and on he went, leaving the skin behind him in a fragile tube.

He got about halfway out and stopped.

"It's okay, my dear, you're doing beautifully. Take a break if you need to. Would you like some water?"

The snake nodded, so he grabbed a bottle. He poured a little into a cupped hand and Crowley dipped his head to drink. Aziraphale felt his chest clench at the touch of that tongue in his palm- the first contact in nearly two weeks.

"I can see this isn't easy. But you're doing so well. Don't be frightened. Whatever happens, I'll look after you. We won't let anything come between us ever again, I promise."

Crowley flicked his tongue in a sweet caress, too exhausted to express his thanks by any other means, and then with new determination he pushed forward again. It took a long time and a lot of effort, but eventually he was free. He hissed and groaned and turned back.

"Angel!" he gasped, and Aziraphale was at his side in an instant.

"I'm here. What do you need?"

"Water."

He passed the bottle and Crowley downed half of it, then collapsed his head and shoulders into Aziraphale's lap.

"Hold me."

The angel didn't hesitate, but wrapped his arms around him, pulling him against his chest and burying his face in his hair. "It's all right. It's all done. You'll be fine, now."

Crowley clutched him desperately, and Aziraphale stroked his hair and kept whispering until he relaxed and fell asleep. He held him for an hour until he woke again and slowly sat up, and looked around as if seeing his surroundings for the first time.

"I can't believe you did all this."

"It really wasn't too much of a bother. I just wanted to make it as easy as possible for you."

"You did. It was the smoothest shedding I've ever had." He turned to see the empty skin. It had to be fifteen foot long. "Check it out. The whole thing came off in one piece. Including the eye caps." He seemed proud of that fact.

"It was a remarkable thing to see."

He stretched out his back with a happy yowl. "Oh good grief, that feels so much better! I'm going to treat you to the best dinner ever. You've earned it for putting up with me at my worst."

"You weren't that bad."

"I was horrendous. I called you several bad names you didn't deserve. And I think I shouted a lot."

"You did." Aziraphale smiled. "But you also said something else. Right before you changed."

"Did I?"

"You know you did. Don't pretend. I've put up with your nonsense for nearly two weeks, but you're better now and I'd like to carry on where we left off, if you please."

"And where exactly was that?" He rolled into his belly and propped himself up on his elbows.

"You know. Wining and dining. Celebrating our victory and our escape." He paused. "Courting."

"Courting?" The word echoed with a raised eyebrow. "So we're courting, are we?"

"What would you rather?"

"Well, we could just skip straight to the kissing part."

"Don't be ridiculous. You can kiss me on the doorstep when you bring me home. That's how it's supposed to be done."

"Are you honestly expecting me to play by the rules, Angel?"

"No. Not really. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't state them, just for the record."

"Come here then."

Aziraphale hesitated. "What, here? In a damp tent with a heap of dead skin? That's where you want our first kiss to be?"

"I couldn't care less where it happens, so long as it happens." He was wriggling closer, and Aziraphale was finding it difficult to take in air.

"Not like this!" he gasped.

Crowley froze in place and his face fell. "No? Too fast?"

"Crowley, I have been thinking about this moment for an exceptionally long time. I just want it to be perfect."

"It will be. Come on." He scrambled to his feet and held out his hand.

"Where are we going?"

"To dinner. Or the theatre. Or just to wander in the park, under the stars. It doesn't matter. Anywhere you want to go."

Aziraphale grinned and took his hand. Crowley pulled him up and dragged him out through the door. He started running down the steps towards the Bentley but Aziraphale stayed rooted just outside the door.

"Come on, Angel. Where to?"

"No where." He pulled the demon closer, taking both his hands and then stroking up his arms to gently cup his face. "If there's one thing that's become clear to me in the last three weeks, it's that I'd do anything for you. And whatever daydreams I may have had about this moment don't matter a single jot when I compare them to the possibility of actually being together, with you, in reality. So I say, sod that for a game of soldiers, and let's just bloody well get on with it."

Crowley just stood there, stunned. His mouth was opening and closing, but the sounds that came out of it were unintelligible. So Aziraphale just pulled his face closer and firmly planted their lips together. The demon let out a startled, and somewhat muffled whine, but he quickly got a hold of himself figuratively, and a hold of Aziraphale literally, and took the two small steps needed to push him back against the pillar and kiss him with six thousand years worth of stifled passion.

And it was better than either of them could have imagined.