|Completed: The Beach Botanist's Survival Guide, Parts 3 & 4
||[Jun. 14th, 2012|01:13 pm]
(lives between pages)
Title: The Beach Botanist's Survival Guide, Parts 3 & 4 (Part 1; Part 2)
Fandom: Good Omens
Pairings/Characters: Aziraphale/Crowley, Raphael/Uriel (OC versions of them as seen throughout my personal GO canon), various incidental minor OCs, and (for the previous installment) the Device-Pulsifer family
Word Count: 10,000 words across all parts (5,000 words for 3 & 4 combined).
Rating: NC-17 all around, guys.
Notes: See full explanation of the prompt here. Set in the same universe as / follows the sequence currently consisting of A Better Place, The Walls, the Wainscot, and the Mouse, What to Do When the Clock Just Stops, and Creature Comforts. In the chronology, since I assume this universe is happening in real-time (from their 2005 cottage move-in date forward), it's happening last weekend.
Summary: All Crowley had wanted was to have a go at the infamous rosa rugosa and spend a lot of time under the covers (not sleeping, and definitely not alone).
3. Be mindful of weeds. Great beauty often conceals great danger.
Check-in at Angels' Landing was everything Raphael had hoped it would be: painless, efficient, and a massive source of annoyance to one Anthony James Crowley. Between that and Café Heaven, he'd wedged in a thorn for the duration.
“I've put you in numbers 17 and 18,” explained the receptionist. “I don't care who goes where, as long as it's only two of you sleeping in each suite at any given time. Otherwise, I've got to charge extra. Parties are okay by me, but make sure you don't bother your neighbors or break anything, and make sure to kick your friends out before bedtime, no matter how late that is.”
“Fabulous,” said Raphael, and dropped one of the two sets of keys into Crowley's impatient palm. It had a tag reading #18 - FALLEN ANGEL. Raphael's own set was labeled #17 - ANGEL'S FOLLY. “We're the balcony directly above you. Yours has a ground-level view of the garden. Unless you'd like to swap?”
“I'll take my chances with the plantsss,” Crowley hissed, snapping his fingers. The receptionist had already turned to another task, and therefore didn't notice that his luggage and Aziraphale's had vanished. “Come on, angel. Let's get settled.”
Aziraphale followed him out of the office without any protest.
“I simply don't like it,” Raphael said, turning to Uriel, who'd already wrangled all of their luggage onto her back and into the crooks of her arms and around her delicate wrists. So slender, so strong. Later, he'd have her in handcuffs.
“You don't like what?” she asked, smirking. “That they're ridiculously happy?”
“No,” he said, leading the way into the breezy courtyard. “I don't like the fact that that serpent has our mutual friend cock-whipped or pussy-whipped or whatever-the-hell-he's-got-down-there whipped. There's danger in relinquishing the upper hand.”
“I think you're full of shit,” Uriel told him. “And also not seeing straight. Whatever he's got down there is his business. I don't see you flashing your freak-show voluntarily.”
Raphael grinned and dashed up the stairs, sliding the key smoothly into #17's lock.
“You like my freak-show just fine,” he told her, winking, and went inside.
The real kicker, Raphael thought as he unpacked his things, was that Crowley really was gorgeous. That wasn't up for dispute. Losing the sunglasses was an excellent decision, because who wouldn't want to see those stunning pupils widened in unabashed pleasure? If not for the fact that Aziraphale would have cut him in half with a certain lost-but-retrievable-in-moments-of-extreme-need object, he'd have had the demon long ago. But not for a lover, never for a lover. His sort, Raphael imagined, were best kept for casual amusement, perhaps the odd dalliance.
Uriel's grey eyes bored furiously into the back of his head.
How dare you, she sent plaintively. You racist asshole!
Race has nothing to do with it, Raphael countered, humming in satisfaction as he hung up a few skirts. We're all the same stock, remember? I mean, look at him; clearly a fallen angel and not one of those lumps born down there. Have you seen Duke Hastur?
Fine, Uriel snapped, knocking his skirts on the floor as she hung up some tank tops. Then you're a bigot. Which is sick and ironic in all the worst ways. You know Hastur and that persistent sidekick of his were with us before the Fall. Knock it off.
“As you will,” he purred, retrieving the skirts. “Which one of these for dinner?”
“Who cares,” said Uriel, from the bathroom. “You look like a hooker in all of them.”
Raphael sat down on the bed and removed his hat. It hadn't all been wine and roses, learning to live with her. She was anal-retentive about cleanliness, to the point where she'd scrubbed down his entire apartment within a week of her most recent arrival. Six months on, the place still smelled like Clorox. She insisted on doing the dishes right after they ate, and she didn't like leaving clothes lying everywhere after sex. Which had, much to Raphael's alarm, grown more tame and familiar over time. Leather and foodstuffs had fallen out of favor. At least she still liked being tied up.
And he was relieved that she was content to call San Francisco home for now.
There were some other nasty trade-offs, though—such as all the restless dead that tended to hang around waiting for her. Dominion Over the Souls of Men, the ones not neatly whisked off by Azrael to one place or the other, meant that she'd acquired all the hang-ups of a human social worker. Her sometime duties as Holy Assassin had mostly fallen by the wayside, as humans almost always took the initiative in such matters these days. Still, she'd been the best archer in Heaven's army. Tanith had been second-best, and Uriel had been disconsolate when she'd Fallen.
Raphael wondered if he'd only ever be, at most, an entertaining substitute.
Just then, Uriel emerged from the bathroom. She'd ditched her jeans and tee for a sun-dress and sandals, a rare enough vision in its own right. Raphael stared at her.
“You're really not pretending, are you?” she said, fastening her hoop earrings.
Raphael offered her a hand. “You are the loveliest creature this side of Paradise.”
Uriel slid easily into his lap and played absently with his short, textured hair.
“Let it grow again,” she begged. “I remember your wild auburn mane even now.”
“Don't you dare grow yours out,” Raphael whispered in her ear, letting a hand slide down to the small of her back. She wasn't wearing anything under the sun-dress. Her sandals dropped to the floor. “You seemed to like the snake's an awful lot. I won't dye mine black, not even for you.”
“You'd look like a trimmer, gothed-up version of Eddie Izzard,” she said. “Appealing, but it really wouldn't suit. Your hair looks great on fire, and I should know.” His skirt melted into firmament between them, and she canted her hips forward with a sigh.
Uriel liked the fact he was an easy fit, none of the pain of adjusting to inch after thick inch. He had just enough to fuck with, and just enough besides for being fucked. He wondered why biology didn't permit the birth of more humans with such variations, and he wondered why they stigmatized and cut each other up when they were. It all worked just fine; hadn't they figured that out?
They turned up for dinner in excellent spirits, although Uriel still had him on notice.
Aziraphale had sorted out a picnic basket—excuse him, hamper, and the accent still rankled no matter how many times Raphael heard it—and a blanket on the sand. He beckoned, and then thrust a glass of wine in each of their hands once they'd settled.
Crowley was nowhere in immediate evidence.
“Scared him off too soon, did I?” Raphael asked, raising his glass. “Apologies.”
“Not in the least,” Aziraphale said, taking a sip of what turned out to be an excellent blush. He gestured off down the strand, his eyes following. “He wanted to get a head start, you see. Find out if what you said was really true.”
Uriel snorted. “Which part of what he said? He says a lot, and not much of it's true.”
“About the shells, at a guess,” Raphael sighed. “Look, it's true. If it's shells he likes and you're hell-bent on keeping him happy, which I can see you are, why didn't you just talk me out of the Cape and suggest Sanibel instead?”
“This is a sensible halfway point,” Aziraphale said. “And I fear I don't know much about shelling, although if you let me join him for a moment, I'm sure I can sort out a find worth his while, and we can get on with supper.”
Uriel drained her wine as they watched him shuffle off towards the water. He looked ridiculous, Raphael thought, barefoot in his spectacles and all that tweed. He could stand to lose twenty pounds, and why in the world was that so irresistible to a demon, anyway? Ample proof of Gluttony? It wasn't natural for their kind to need this; you could argue it was a choice open to any of them, but did they need it? Not really. Gabriel was married to his desk-job, and Michael wasn't interested in a relationship unless it involved beating someone—or something—up.
Raphael refilled Uriel's glass and gave it back to her.
“Watch them,” Uriel said gently, turning up his palm so that she could cross it with a with a sprinkling of fine, white sand. Raphael turned his gaze back to the sea.
Aziraphale was standing ankle-deep in the quickly approaching surf, examining something in Crowley's cupped hands. Even at that distance, you couldn't help but notice that the demon's eyes glowed. What could've raised his spirits so dramatically?
“Aziraphale cheats,” Uriel explained. “Miracles up all kinds of things. Coins, rings, tiles, priceless relics from the deep.” She rose to her knees, smoothing down her skirt as the wind buffeted it about her thighs, quicksilver eyes squinting in their direction. “It's gold from the Whydah,” she continued. “Maybe he dredged it from the sea floor, or maybe he spirited it out of the museum that's not even a mile from here. My point is, Rafe, that you can't buy love like that. You just can't. It happens or it doesn't, and if it does, in Aziraphale's shoes, you'd move Heaven, Earth, and Hell to keep Crowley safe and content. Don't you think he's suffered enough? Don't you remember what happened? He's escaped: one eternal, deathless soul out of so many thousands.”
“Luck,” Raphael murmured. “The Devil's own.” She was thinking of Tanith, and it made his heart clench. He hated, hated, hated his human nickname, but she enjoyed the unique privilege of getting to call him that without suffering verbal torment.
Crowley let Aziraphale kiss him, not even caring who might see. Moody creatures, demons. One moment, they've got daggers for you; the next, they'll snog you silly.
After they ate cheese and pickle sandwiches (vile, but it was obvious this constituted one of Crowley's favorite foods) and drank their way through two more bottles of Barefoot Zinfandel (not the best California fare, after all, but the best they could do out East, what with how little of the gross total production got exported), Uriel tipsily tugged Crowley to his feet and hauled him back down to the water. She'd taken the basket—hamper—so they could toss further finds in it. At a distance, they were a sterling facsimile of carefree humans doing what humans did best: make discoveries.
From the look of things, Uriel was cheating a lot.
Aziraphale looked somewhat relieved to be off the hook for a little while. Raphael offered him some more wine, but, this time, the bottle wasn't labeled Barefoot.
It was Rosenblum Cellars' holy grail of red Zins, the legendary 2005 Paso Robles.
“Crowley will be sorry he's missing this,” Aziraphale said. “Save him a glass?”
“I'll save you a glass,” Raphael replied, pouring some for himself, “and if you want to give it to him, that's no skin off my back.”
Aziraphale's expression suggested he wasn't pleased. “Still like it rough, do you?”
“She's happy to oblige,” said Raphael, trying for nonchalance. He hadn't succeeded.
“I see,” mused Aziraphale. “She's thinner than I remember. Do you feed her at all, I wonder, you fashionistas out there in New Sodom?”
“Don't look at me like that. Of course I do. She's taken up a strenuous form of yoga.”
Aziraphale didn't look impressed. “If you hurt her,” he said, calmly sipping his wine, “I'll see to it that you never again enjoy what you so callously take for granted.”
Raphael gaped at him in mock-horror. “Threats again, darling? Would you really?”
“You ought to've comforted her when it happened, but all you did was watch.”
“And, as I recall, you were right there beside me.”
“Yes, I was, for all my sins. But I wasn't laughing with you.”
“Did you know he was there amongst the Fallen? Did you even know who he was until he slithered up to you one fine day in a garden that none of us will ever see again?”
“I didn't,” said Aziraphale, as if the admission pained him. “I mean, I knew who they were in a general sense, you know, our sisters and brothers, but...”
“Does he please you?” asked Raphael. “How often do you, how did you put it, enjoy that skinny, neurotic piece of infernal arse?” The last word tasted strange, sounded ludicrous passing his lips. He couldn't mimic their diction, not even to ridicule.
Aziraphale didn't speak for a long time. He finished his wine, watching the two figures growing ever more distant down the strand. His clear blue eyes never wavered.
“As often as he'll have me,” he said, so softly Raphael almost didn't hear him. “I'm dreaming, I think, endlessly, that he's content to share my bed. There's nothing he won't gladly take, nothing he won't willingly give. He has nightmares like you wouldn't believe—dear boy, don't look so shocked. He's seen horrors at which we can't possibly guess, and if you think I'm talking about Hell, guess again. He was in England during the Plague and in Spain during the Inquisition. That book he's reading, for example: if I've got the shape of it from what he's said and from reading the dust jacket, he'll have bad dreams for a month afterward. I'm tempted to toss it in the sea, if you want to know the truth, but he'd never forgive me. He'll risk no end of heartbreak for even one moment of heart-stopping beauty. Tell me, is there something like that coming?”
Fucking Christ. First Uriel's infuriating insight, and now this.
“Let him finish it,” said Raphael, convinced that the stinging in his eyes was sand.
“I thought so,” said Aziraphale. “More wine? No? More's the pity. I'll save the rest. Thank you ever so much for bringing a spot of the stuff you keep for yourselves.”
What bothered Raphael the most wasn't the fact that Crowley was a demon, not really. It was just how astonishingly well they were making the relationship work.
You can never come home, he told Aziraphale, the thought heavy with regret.
I didn't want to twenty-two years ago, not even when the door was standing wide open, and I don't now. Whatever happens, I'll stay here with him. And you're wrong.
About what? Raphael frowned at him.
Eden, Aziraphale said, already rising to meet Crowley and Uriel. It's here. All around us. Every bird, every mouse, every fish, and every last shining grain of sand.
The demon wore a crown of bright beach roses, thorns catching in his windswept hair.
Judging by Aziraphale's expression, there wasn't any part of Crowley's anatomy, whatever it might be, that would lack for the attention of his hands, his mouth, and his solid, comforting body long into morning. The thought made Raphael shiver.
And even though Uriel's fingertips were cut to shreds for her flower-picking trouble, she was still the loveliest thing that Raphael had ever seen: standing there with a basket of damp, sand-dusted treasures in the bruised crook of her arm.
“It's cold,” he said, stumbling to his feet. He draped his shirt around her.
“Pretty fly, but you could use a tan,” she said, and went up on tiptoe to kiss him.
For all his sins, he let her.
4. Never lose your sense of wonder. Always turn towards the sun.
Uriel woke to the sound of muffled snoring, which wasn't unusual of itself.
What was strange was how clear-headed she felt, even after how much they'd all drunk. She'd known Aziraphale to surreptitiously fix things for people—total strangers, even, not just for his best-friend-turned-lover. She sat straight up in bed.
Was that the problem with her and Raphael, she wondered: that they hadn't bothered to become friends first? The sex had always been fantastic, no questions asked, although she had the sneaking suspicion that, as satisfied as they were, Raphael was starting to worry. She had less of a tolerance for complicated gear, and sticky bedclothes, where once she'd endured them for his sake, were nigh unthinkable. She'd grown more assertive, had fewer reservations about telling him what didn't work.
That was what friends did, wasn't it? Told the truth even when it hurt?
Raphael rolled over and reached for her, but got an armful of pillow instead.
Uriel slipped out of bed and wandered over to the sliding glass door. If someone reported her for public nudity, she'd accept the consequences. It was a beautiful morning. She unlocked the door, slid it open, and stepped out onto the balcony.
Down below, Crowley, in a ratty Bentley-logo tee and faded blue-and-white plaid pyjama bottoms, crouched next to the garden verge. He prodded a sturdy Solomon's Seal stalk with careful fingers, asking it some question too hushed for her to hear.
Uriel covered her mouth, but it was too late.
Crowley stood to attention, his cheeks turning faintly pink when he finally looked up.
“Good morning,” said Uriel, laughing. “I'm sorry. You're rather reserved, aren't you?”
“I've seen naked women,” Crowley replied. “Usually not by preference, but I don't find you repulsive, so, yeah. Keen. Might as well add woman-shaped angels to the list.”
“Have you ever lain with one?” Uriel asked—not to be rude, but because it was so rare to have the opportunity to ask him such questions. “A woman, I mean,” she clarified. Aziraphale would tell her anything provided she got him drunk enough, and it had always been disappointing to hear, decade after decade after century, that he'd never slept with anybody. She was of the opinion he'd accrue the kind of conquests worth relating. Human bodies were a miracle, in her estimation. Best invention since wings.
Crowley appeared to have turned pink again, but it might have been sunburn.
“No,” he said. “I've never really been so...inclined.”
“What about with men? And, no, Aziraphale doesn't count, because he's like us.”
“What does that mean?” asked Crowley, frowning at her. “No. Not with men, either.”
“Not human, is what it means,” said Uriel, standing up. Her nipples peaked in the cool morning air, and she couldn't help but notice that Crowley had averted his gaze.
“But we're like them,” Crowley said. “At least in part. Now, like this, as we are.”
Uriel leaned forward again, hugging herself against the chill. The demon looked up at her again, thoughtfully chewing his lower lip. He was studying her wrists.
“You have bruises,” he said.
“And you've got a hickey,” she countered.
Crowley rubbed at his neck, suddenly self-conscious.
“From the luggage,” Uriel said, showing him her inner arms just below the elbow.
“You had those yesterday,” he said slowly, “but not the ones on your wrists.”
“Handcuffs,” she said, grinning down at him. “Ever try them?”
Crowley's eyes went so dark they held nearly no color at all.
“I've had more than enough of restraints in other contexts,” he said, and crouched back down beside the Solomon's Seal. He set a hand on one broad, strong leaf.
“Get back in here, for God's sake,” Raphael groaned from inside.
“In a minute,” she said. “Let me do some stretches.”
“We may be in P-town, darling, but this is the US of A. Prudes everywhere.”
“Fuck 'em,” she said, already folded in half on the rug-covered concrete.
They met up for breakfast at Café Heaven. In spite of how relaxed Crowley seemed in comparison to the day before, he was strangely quiet. She'd expected him to open up after the beach-combing they'd done, during which she'd fetched him no fewer than six precious objects: an intact seventeenth-century clay pipe, a Viking glass bead that had been manufactured near York sometime in the nine-hundreds A.D., an Egyptian burial amulet shaped like a bunch of grapes that had been with the mummy on Titanic, another coin from the Whydah (this one silver), a tiny doll's arm carved from pearly grey granite, and a wave-tumbled piece of Baltic amber (rather a stretch).
Maybe it was too early. Aziraphale had once told her he wasn't a morning person.
“What should we do today?” Uriel asked. She'd dressed casually, low-riding denim shorts and a top that, Raphael said, showed off her archer's arms to perfection. He was, as she was so fond of telling him, full of shit, because she was out of practice.
“You'd mentioned you like shopping?” said Crowley, uncertainly.
“Leave that to your sugar daddy and me,” she said, and winked at him.
Crowley's sunburnt cheeks went very pink indeed. She hadn't been seeing things.
Aziraphale, on the other hand, didn't get the joke. He smiled at her beneficently.
“I'd be up for a stroll through the shops,” he said. “The high street's full of them.”
“Main street,” Crowley corrected him. “They don't say that here.”
“A high street is a high street,” Aziraphale insisted. “This is New England, after all.”
“You'll never hear this out of me again, but: what Crowley said,” Raphael added.
The demon rolled his eyes and flagged down a waitress.
Before she had the chance to scream, Aziraphale miracled his sunglasses into place.
“How often does that happen?” Uriel asked him later, once they'd all finished their Eggs Benedict, French toast, and Maine-blueberry pancakes and piled into the nearest shop. She picked up a handcrafted leather wallet and noticed that the man who'd made it was based in the Bay Area. She'd look him up when she got home. Raphael came into contact with lots of artists on a passing basis; surely he'd—
Home. Oh, hell no. Was she that far gone?
“It's a strange feeling, I must admit,” said Aziraphale, from behind her, placing reassuring hands on her arms, her wrists, her hips. The tender spots faded, although she was sorry to lose them. “How often does what happen, dear girl?”
“How often do you have to cover for him? Make sure he doesn't put his foot in it?”
“Hardly at all,” Aziraphale said. “In fact, I'm more often prone to exposing him when he'd rather stay hidden—of which I'm hardly proud.”
Uriel traced the black-and-teal wave pattern tooled into the soft leather.
“He's got such a sense of wonder,” she said. “Everything is always and already new.”
Aziraphale hummed in agreement, reaching around her to inspect the price tag.
“His delight in the small and peculiar knows no bounds.”
“Those windscreen transfers were hilarious,” Uriel said, letting Aziraphale take the wallet out of her hands for inspection. “I hope he never grows out of it. What a dork! Actually, though, it's kind of hot, so I don't blame you for loving him. Sorry I ever doubted. Speaking of dorky, how long did it take him to fess up to the fact that he devours literary fiction and SF novels like a procrastinating first-year English major?”
“I caught him out shortly after we started living together.”
“You mean sleeping together.”
“Living. The rest of it came after,” Aziraphale said, tucking the wallet under his arm.
“You moved in with him before taking him to bed? I'm impressed.” Uriel grabbed for the wallet, but Aziraphale turned and walked towards the till. “Seriously, don't you dare. It's a hundred and twelve dollars, and Crowley's lost his job.”
“Stuff and nonsense,” said Aziraphale. “You deserve nice things.”
“Both my thanks and my protestations fall on deaf ears,” Uriel lamented, but she couldn't stop grinning. “Where have they got off to? Rafe's probably trapped Crowley in a fitting room and won't let him out till he tries on something outrageous.”
“Oh, they're over the road in one of the gallery shops,” Aziraphale said, handing his debit card to the proprietor. “Crowley saw a painting, and Rafe saw lots of paintings. They won't come out till they've inspected everything.”
“He's what you've always wanted,” Uriel said, “From the very Beginning. I can tell.”
Aziraphale thanked the proprietor and handed the tissue-wrapped parcel to Uriel.
“What's that, my dear?”
“Someone to coddle and do for and cherish and call your very own.” She would have ended with call George, but Aziraphale wouldn't have recognized that joke, either.
Aziraphale sighed. “I suppose you're right. From the moment our paths crossed, I couldn't leave him. Not knowing who he was, not knowing I'd done nothing when...”
“I forgive you,” said Uriel, and it was harder than she'd have thought. “Rafe, too.”
“I didn't want to think I'd let him into my existence out of guilt. It was a very long time before I realized that wasn't it at all. I couldn't put my finger on it. Not till now.”
“I'm glad it wasn't guilt,” Uriel said, “but he'd have been completely lost out there, in the grand scheme of things, without someone to share all his treasures with.”
Aziraphale smiled sadly. “Not lost, I should think—just very misguided and lonely.”
“And you,” said Uriel, darkly, “would have been a holy terror.”
“Let's go find them,” said Aziraphale, tone mildly warning, and strode out of the shop.
Uriel followed, but she kept some distance.
Arrows were no match for a sword at close range.
They found Crowley trying to talk Raphael out of making a purchase.
“Paintings don't travel well,” said the demon, desperately. “Packing's expensive.”
“Pffft,” said Raphael. “I thought you were more persuasive than that.” He winked at the dour-looking woman beside them who was clearly waiting for an answer. “That'll be a yes. Send it to Angels' Landing.” He handed her a stack of bills that, at a glance, contained an extra few hundred at least. “Fantastic doing business with you.”
Crowley slunk to Aziraphale's side. “Make it stop,” he pleaded.
Aziraphale studied the canvas while the woman counted Raphael's cash.
“This isn't your taste at all, Rafe,” he said. “Surreal color washes, blatant abstraction—”
“As I was saying to Crowley, I wouldn't dream of setting foot in your cottage until it's properly decorated,” Raphael said casually. He got right in Aziraphale's face.
Uriel felt her stomach drop through the floor. Her right hand flew instinctively to her back, grasped at empty air. But that could be fixed, so very easily fixed...
Raphael said, “Do you love him—”
“—more than anything else in Creation,” Raphael ploughed on. “Answer me true.”
Torn between duty and compassion, Uriel let her arm fall limp and stepped close to Crowley, pulling him back from Aziraphale's side. He'd gone whiter than the sand, his worried yellow eyes blazing and uncovered for all to see. She held him.
Oblivious to the showdown happening in front of her, the woman murmured something that sounded like Be right back, counting greenbacks, and left the room.
Aziraphale stood his ground and said, “I do.”
Raphael's deadly expression melted. In its place, naked admiration.
“Then it's yours,” he said, and clapped Aziraphale on the shoulder. “Enjoy.”
“We're leaving,” Uriel said, patting a stunned Crowley on the shoulder. She grabbed Raphael's hand and started for the door, hauling him along with all her might. “We'll catch up with you for dinner. Lobster Pot at seven? What do you say?”
“He bought us a painting,” Crowley said, flabbergasted.
Aziraphale sighed and rubbed his temples.
“Fine,” he said. “Yes. Splendid.”
The last thing Uriel saw was how quickly Aziraphale forgot they were still there, forgot the woman was still there, forgot everyone else in the world was still there. He held Crowley so close she thought their atoms might combine and occupy the same space.
So much for that dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin question.
Breathless and half a block away, she brought Raphael to a painful halt.
“Don't do that again,” said Uriel, and shoved him up against the side of a convenient brick building. “You're a bigot and a bully and a busybody and I don't even—”
“He's fine,” said Raphael, actually raising his arms to shield himself from her blows. “It's all fine, I'm done. I understand now, but before, I just couldn't—”
“Couldn't stand not having whatever it is they have,” Uriel spat. “Covetous fuck.”
And then she noticed how pale and scared he looked under all that eye make-up.
Raphael's words left him in a devastated rush.
“I'm sorry, I had it, we had it, I was too stupid to see it, I didn't know how—”
Uriel gave in and clung to him, burying her face in his expensive shirt.
“There's no how,” she cried, snarling her fingers in the sheer fabric. “And no why!”
“A war would have been good for us,” said Raphael, unsteadily. He kissed her gel-spiked hair, traced her ribs, realizing for the first time how gaunt she'd grown.
“I want lobster,” she seethed. “And I love you, you stupid fucking cunt.”
Raphael blinked in amazement. His eyes were filled with tears.
“I can't go back to the Beginning. I can't change my actions. I can't bring her back from Hell. I can't be what she was, but I can be myself, and maybe if you'd let me...”
She looked up at him, sniffling loudly. “Yes?”
“Love you, darling,” he said. “Flawed as I am.”
Uriel wiped her nose on his shirt, but she was smiling.
“Let's try this again,” she said. “England in the spring. There's a wedding.”
“Rules are rules,” Raphael said, touching her cheek wistfully.
“And if those two can break them, so can we. I'm sick to death of them, rules.”
“So am I, darling,” he said, blinking dazedly into the sunlight. “So am I.”
Uriel led him back into the street, giddy with how tightly he held her hand.
And once they'd all gone home, she'd send wild roses to a cottage by the sea.
—Coda: Moonlighting / Think of England—