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Chance Encounter

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It's not the first time Aziraphale has grudgingly emerged from the back room in response to a customer's startled shout. He sighs and puts down his crossword. Such flighty creatures, humans. So much needless fuss.

"Where is it?" asks Aziraphale, wearily. He thinks he's heard that voice before.

The poor lad stands with his back to the shelves on the far wall, trembling in his trendy canvas flats.

"There," he says, pointing at the low, sunny window ledge. "Behind the stack of record catalogues."

Aziraphale bends with a huff, shifting the hefty stack (Bloody be-bop, he thinks, thanks to bloody Adam Young). The offending party lies curled in the late afternoon glow, tongue flicking lazily at its reflection in the glass.

"It's an adder," insists the unduly traumatized customer. "Don't get too close!"

"It's no such thing," Aziraphale sighs, sliding his fingers beneath the coils he knows to be most ticklish. "Natrix natrix helvetica," he says, holding out his captive for the familiar-looking young man. "Common grass snake. They don't even bite, dear boy."

The snake sinks its rather unimpressive fangs into Aziraphale's thumb. Aziraphale doesn't flinch, but the young man—who, Aziraphale realizes, is Warlock Dowling, all grown up—flings himself back against the bookshelves.

"Not poisonous, either," adds Aziraphale, and brushes the snake's belly with his pinkie.

It writhes, gnawing ineffectually at Aziraphale's thumb before reluctantly letting go.

"Is it your pet?" asks Warlock, his voice tinged with relieved amusement.

"They're better suited to captivity than most, but difficult to feed," Aziraphale explains, unbuttoning his cuff in irritation as the snake glides head-first up the sleeve of his shirt. "And no, he's not, but he comes and goes as he pleases."

"How do you know it's a he?" asks Warlock, grinning as Aziraphale hauls the snake out of its hiding place by the tip of its tail. "The markings?"

"Males are smaller than females," says Aziraphale, coaxing the snake back onto the window ledge. It uncurls from his wrist leisurely, nosing its way back towards the warm, dusty glass. Aziraphale can't help but wonder if Warlock recognizes him.

"Neat," says Warlock, and proceeds to leave the shop in a hurry. "And, uh, thanks!"

Aziraphale turns to find Crowley, perched naked on the ledge, idly flipping through a catalogue. He's the very picture of disheveled grace.

"You're a menace, my dear," Aziraphale tells him, tilting Crowley's chin up with his much-abused thumb.

"Who, me?" Crowley asks with an air of mock offense, raising his eyebrows. "Also, d'you realize who—"

"Hush," says Aziraphale, fondly, and tugs him away from the window. "Of course I do. Get dressed."

Crowley materializes his favorite ensemble, leaning so close their noses brush. "Let's follow him."

Aziraphale sniffs, tempted to rise to the bait. "So we can do what, exactly—tempt him to lunch?"

"Well, sure," Crowley says, pecking him on the lips. "Politicians' brats on spring hols? Loaded."

"Don't even think about it," Aziraphale replies, offering his arm. "You'll pay, or it's no deal."