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Taking Steps

Chapter Text

Crowley was in a state of shock.

 

Admittedly, this shouldn’t have been surprising, given that his recent experiences included near-death, body-swapping, car explosions, bookshop conflagrations, and rebellious eleven-year-olds defeating the forces of Heaven, Hell, and independent contractors.

 

But that had been two weeks ago, and though saying he’d recovered would have been not so much stretching the truth as utterly shattering it, his current state of shock was…something different.

 

“Say—say that again, angel?” he managed. “You said…you wanted to try…new things?”

“I only meant,” said Aziraphale, his hands fretting at his coat sleeves, “After all the excitement of the end of the world…ah, that is, not the end of the world—the not-end of the world—well, in any case, after all the recent excitement, I had the idea that you might…be a bit…bored. That perhaps we might try…something new.”

Crowley wasn’t bored.

He was…tired? Maybe that was the right word. He certainly wanted to curl up under a blanket. It was just that the blanket had a name. And owned a bookshop. And wore clothing that had been around at least a century longer than blankets that were currently on display in history museums.

And was currently pacing in the bookshop’s back room, dithering about trying new things.

“Ehhhnnng,” said Crowley, intelligently. “What…what kinds of things did you have in mind?”

“Oh,” said Aziraphale, clasping his hands together, “I…well, a number of things have crossed my mind, I must say, and not all of them…well, some of them are probably…unrealistic. Why, I’d even thought of, of moving to a cottage in the country.” He gave a nervous chuckle, his eyes fixed on Crowley’s face.

“You mean leaving”—Crowley stopped himself just before saying “you mean leaving me”—“London?”

“Ah, well,” Aziraphale said, now wringing his hands and starting to pace again, “as I said, some of my ideas were likely very farfetched. I’d thought of others that were…ah…less extreme.”

“What,” Crowley croaked, his stomach still some feet below the bookshop floor, where it had plunged at the idea of Aziraphale moving away from him, “what were the others, then?”

“I…” Aziraphale’s eyes were now darting nervously to and from Crowley’s face. “Well, I had thought of…dancing lessons.”

“Dancing lessons?” Crowley’s stomach, having just clambered back up into his body, was welcomed back with a molten-lead flood of jealousy at the idea of his angel dancing with some—some stranger

“Oh, dear, well, if you don’t want to, we certainly don't”—

“Wait,” interrupted Crowley, “you meant—both of us? Dancing lessons together?”

“Well, of course I meant together, my dear. That’s…that’s the whole—but, of course, if you don’t want to, we can forget—it was a silly idea anyway, I suppose.” His face had started to crumple, in that way that sent tiny knives twisting into Crowley’s heart—

“No no no, it’s fine, it’s fine. Course we can. It’s a great idea. Dancing lessons, sure. New things, like you said. I…” Crowley paused, frowned, tilted his head. “Dancing lessons? You’re sure? You know they don’t…they don’t do the gavotte anymore, right?”

Aziraphale rolled his eyes, ordinary Aziraphale tetchiness rescuing both of them from…whatever was happening in this conversation. “Yes, of course, Crowley. I know that. The whole point of dancing lessons is to learn a new dance, anyway. Besides, I’ve looked into it, and I think the best option available at the moment is…is salsa dancing.”

“Salsa dancing.” Crowley echoed this tonelessly, because he certainly couldn’t give voice to the images his mind was currently producing (Aziraphale spinning onstage in a spangly red dress featured rather prominently).

“Yes, salsa dancing.” Aziraphale’s cheeks were pink. “It’s—well, if you must know, the only other choice was disco, and we are not trying that again, not after that club you dragged me to in 1973.”

“That wasn’t my fault! I didn’t have anything to do with the fish tank. Or the seagulls. Besides, disco’s easy. You just sort of…fling yourself around.”

“Easy for you,” Aziraphale said, gesturing at Crowley’s very flingable body.

“Ehhhhh,” said Crowley, whose mouth had gone unaccountably dry, “aaaalright, but, but it’s not as though there’s no—uuuuhhh—flinging in salsa dancing. I mean”—his face was oddly warm—“I mean, you have to move your, errrr, your hips. And…and other parts.” He was trying very hard not to look at Aziraphale’s hips. Or other parts.

“There’s nothing wrong with moving one’s hips,” said Aziraphale, looking not at Crowley but at a bookcase across the room. “And in any case, salsa has steps. You can learn them. In order.”

Crowley was fairly sure there was more to salsa than learning a set of steps in order, but if it was a choice between awkward dancing lessons and Aziraphale moving to the country—well, that wasn’t even a choice.

“How long do these lessons go on, then?” he asked.

“Oh!” Aziraphale’s face lit up. “You’ll do it with me?”

“Huh? Course I will. I said I would.”

“Oh, good.” Aziraphale relaxed with relief, still glowing a bit. “Well, the lessons are on Tuesdays. One every week, for six weeks. And then there’s…then there’s a recital, at the end.”

Crowley opened his mouth and closed it again. Dancing and performing in front of an audience? This might be more extreme than moving to the country. But Aziraphale’s grateful, beaming smile was fresh in his mind, and he couldn’t find it in him to bring up any more objections.

 

The lessons started the following Tuesday, at a location called Takin’ Steps Dance Studios, a name that made Crowley grimace and Aziraphale smile sweetly. Crowley had expected their instructors to be haughty and mysterious, dressed in slinky black, but instead they were a comfortably-sized Black couple named Ellen and George. Ellen had deep brown skin and elegant cheekbones and wore her hair in a short Afro with a wide ribbon around the base; George had a round, rosy-brown face and kept his hair in short locs that bounced on his head when the dancing was more enthusiastic. They both had mildly Northern accents that Crowley didn’t bother pinning down more closely, wore eye-wateringly bright clothes (purples and oranges on the first night), and had hips that were at least as mobile as Crowley’s, only on purpose.

The rest of the dance class—twelve of them in addition to the angel and demon—spanned the range of human skin tones and body types. Aziraphale—who’d spent the entire day pacing around the bookshop, picking up books and setting them down, taking ineffective calming breaths, adjusting his bowtie (and his vest and his jacket and his sleeves)—had, upon their arrival, instantly transformed into the sort of kindly, twinkling gentleman who genuinely wants to hear about your grandchild’s accomplishments, your struggles with your university professor, or your cat’s urinary spitefulness. He was currently circulating amongst their classmates while they sipped post-lesson cocktails, bestowing that indulgent smile on person after person.

Crowley, watching him from his position slouched against a mirrored wall, was jealous—possibly quite intensely so—that Aziraphale’s smile was directed toward anyone other than him, but he couldn’t focus on that while so much more of him was occupied with replaying the evening. Most of what his mind had insisted on replaying recently was overwhelmingly horrible—the words “it’s over” bursting from Aziraphale’s lips, flames devouring the bookshop, an explosion destroying the Bentley, an archangel telling his angel to shut up and die—but this was overwhelmingly pleasant. It was soft and delightful and beautiful and…and all sorts of things that a demon shouldn’t enjoy at all. Perhaps that explained why his corporation’s heart was pounding and sort of…squeezing…in a way that was exquisitely painful.

They’d both been terrible at dancing. Crowley had thought his body’s flexibility would give him an advantage over the angel, but it turned out that random motion, no matter how flexible, was not a substitute for moving in the right direction at the right time. Aziraphale’s body, in stark contrast, was highly resistant to any kind of spontaneous movement, but with enough repetition, his methodical nature eventually won out; he was able to execute the basic steps correctly, if not gracefully, his mouth pressed into a determined line. Crowley had kept having difficulty maintaining the rhythm until George had taken a turn with him, sizable hands gently but firmly steering him into better time.

Crowley’s difficulties might been partially due to distraction, thanks to…well. He and Aziraphale had both frozen when they realized they had to touch each other—Crowley had known that was coming at some point (his heart had tried to climb out of his throat every time he’d thought about it for the past week), but it had never occurred to him that it would be literally the first moment of the lesson. His shoulder blade was still tingling where Aziraphale’s hand had rested, and he felt as though his own hands should have looked different, somehow, after so much prolonged contact with the angel.

They’d fumbled awkwardly for a few seconds when they had to decide who would lead, until Crowley cut that off with a decisive “definitely you, angel. This was your idea.” Aziraphale had looked down, shyly, but hadn’t argued. The memory of the tiny glance he’d given Crowley up through his lashes was part of the reason Crowley was currently leaning against the wall instead of trusting his legs to hold him up. Another part was the astonished light in Aziraphale’s eyes when their gazes had met, the first time they’d pulled off a turn correctly.

George, passing by, paused to lean against the mirrored wall next to Crowley, followed the direction of his sunglasses to where Aziraphale was chatting with a youngish lesbian couple who clearly thought he was adorable. Not that Crowley could blame them. “You’ve got it bad, don’t you, love?” George asked.

Crowley glanced at him and gave what was supposed to be an aggravated sigh but instead came out lovesick. “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” he lied with an extraordinary lack of conviction.

George laughed (both he and Ellen laughed a lot) and patted him on the shoulder. “Of course you don’t.” He looked at Aziraphale appreciatively. “Can’t blame you; he’s a good one. A real sweetheart.”

“Nnnhhh,” said Crowley, who should have had a very sarcastic comeback.

“Are you alright, dear?” Aziraphale appeared beside him as if he’d been summoned, giving George a slightly suspicious glance.

“Hmm? Course I am, angel. Just…” (he rejected “gazing,” “longing,” and “yearning”) “…lurking.”

“I see. Very appropriate.” Aziraphale patted his arm (was that a thing they did now?), sending a feeling like fizzy soda bubbles shooting up Crowley’s shoulder into his head. “Are you ready to go home?”

Crowley replied with something noncommittal that Aziraphale took as agreement, and they found themselves strolling through the close late-August air toward the Bentley.

“So. New things,” said Crowley, mainly to distract himself from the temptation of daringly taking Aziraphale’s arm. Or kissing him against the nearest wall.

Aziraphale glanced at him anxiously. “I do hope it wasn’t too dreadful?”

“Iiiii…aaaahhh,” said Crowley, wondering if the humans even had words for the balloon-like feeling in his chest, “N-no, it wasn’t so bad.”

Chapter Text

Aziraphale did not take naturally to salsa dancing (at all), but with a steely determination that manifested in mildly disconcerting ways. The first was when Crowley was awoken in the night by music floating up the stairs into the flat above the bookshop. (“I do have a bed, dear,” Aziraphale had said huffily when Crowley had begun drifting off on the couch for the third night in a row after the world hadn’t ended. “I scarcely use it; you may as well, if you’re falling asleep anyway.” That was as close as they’d gotten to referring to the fact that Crowley was spending nearly all his time at the bookshop since Armageddon. Well, not-Armageddon.)

It wasn’t that unusual for Aziraphale to listen to music at night, but usually what he had on his gramophone was something well over a century old and very…stolid. This was…well, this was salsa. A near-duplicate of the music they’d used in the dance class. Crowley was so surprised that he was out of bed and heading for the stairs before he was fully awake. His mind caught up with him barely in time to prompt him to take the stairs as silently as he could.

Sure enough, the gramophone was going, and must have been shocked to find itself playing a peppy salsa beat, though not as shocked as Crowley was to see Aziraphale, squinting in concentration while he soundlessly mouthed the count (1-2-3-pause, 5-6-7-pause), practicing dance steps alone in the middle of the bookshop. Crowley watched, mouth agape and all sense of time lost, until it occurred to him that eventually Aziraphale would spot him lurking on the stairs. He crept back up and slid back under the sheets, but didn’t sleep again until sometime after the music from the floor below ceased.

A day or two later, he noted a rug slightly out of place when he came back from making sure his plants stayed in line, and realized that Aziraphale must be taking the opportunity to practice when he had the shop to himself in the daytime as well. After that, Crowley found excuses to subtly lengthen his absences—picking up pastries or takeout, complaining loudly about how bad the traffic was these days, visiting plant shops or music stores.

Aziraphale’s secret practice paid off in their second lesson; he had improved his mastery of the basic steps, and moved on to a slightly more advanced move with Ellen while George had to do remedial work with Crowley. George’s ample and very capable body’s guidance soon had Crowley remembering what he’d learned the previous week, except when—

“Look this way; she’s not going to run away with him,” his teacher told him firmly after Crowley nearly tripped; his gaze had strayed to Aziraphale laughing admiringly at something Ellen had said. Crowley gritted his teeth and tried to focus, grimly resigning himself to the necessity of practicing on his own between lessons, if he didn’t want to be separated from the angel again next week. “That’s better,” said George. “Uh—you don’t have to be that stiff, though, love.”

Eventually George released him; Crowley headed back to Aziraphale with relief. Ellen saw him coming first—

“Looks like your husband’s ready for you now, sweetie,” she told Aziraphale, patting his cheek.

“Oh, good, and thank you so much for the assistance, my dear,” Crowley heard Aziraphale say, through a sort of haze.

It wasn’t being mistaken for Aziraphale’s spouse that was disconcerting—that had happened often enough.

It was that Aziraphale didn’t correct her.

Crowley managed not to say anything, but Aziraphale turned to face him before he had time to hide his shocked look. The angel winced. “I’ll explain later, my dear,” he whispered, taking Crowley’s arm, which did nothing to dispel Crowley’s stunned fog.

“Later” meant back in the Bentley, after a lesson that Crowley didn’t remember very well, when Aziraphale laid a hand on Crowley’s arm (apparently that was a thing they did now) before he could start the car.

“I do apologize, my dear; do let me explain,” Aziraphale started, all nervous looks and fidgeting. “It’s just—well, last week, they—our classmates and instructors, I mean—they made…ah…assumptions about us—and I—well, I thought it would only confuse them if we explained what we…really…well, of course we couldn’t explain what we really are.” He took a breath. “Supernatural entities, I mean.”

“R-right,” said Crowley. There had been a chance in there, if he’d been faster, to beg the angel to explain to him what they really were, and he wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed that he’d let it pass. “So…you’re saying they all think we’re a…couple. I mean a couple couple.”

“Well. Yes.” Aziraphale’s hands adjusted his collar, bowtie, lapels. “I’m…I’m sure we could explain…something else if, if it makes you uncomfortable. I’m terribly sorry; I shouldn’t have presumed without asking you—”

“No, no, no—it’s fine. I—I don’t mind. I mean—it’s…errrrr…you’re right—it’s the simplest explanation for…us.”

Aziraphale swallowed. “Yes. Quite.”

Their eyes met; the air around them seemed to crystallize as they stared—

A car horn sounded in the street behind them, shattering the silence.

“Better get going,” Crowley croaked, shoving his key into the Bentley’s ignition.

“Yes, yes, best head home,” Aziraphale gasped.

 

Crowley attempted, over the next few days, to practice the dance steps they’d learned. It was easy enough to explain his longer visits to his own flat with an excuse that one of his plants was thinking about looking sickly (“I still say you’d have more success with them if you were a bit kinder,” tutted Aziraphale)—since he certainly wasn’t going to admit that he was practicing—but he soon learned that he did not remotely enjoy dancing when it wasn’t with Aziraphale. Holding his arms up in the empty air felt absurd, and the lack of a warm, soft angel under his hands made him increasingly impatient to rush back to the bookshop.

This was ridiculous, he told himself irritably on his way back to Soho on Friday, having given up his practice attempts after fifteen minutes. He and Aziraphale didn’t…touch. Angels weren’t physically affectionate, and Aziraphale, despite being very unconventional for an angel, seemed to share that particular…lack of desire. Crowley could count the number of times they’d touched over 6000 years (and occasionally did count them on lonely evenings). And that was fine; it was an established part of their relationship. Except that now, after just two lessons’ worth of holding hands—strictly for purposes of proper dancing—Crowley couldn’t stop craving it.

He got back to the bookshop in near-record time and spent the rest of the afternoon on the couch with a good bit of Aziraphale’s wine supply.

He skipped practicing the next day, then forced himself to give it one more shot on Sunday. He came back to the bookshop feeling clumsy and hollow and cold, and spent some more quality time with the wine stash until he was drowsy enough that he could retreat to the bed, pulling the blankets tightly around him, imagining they were Aziraphale’s chubby, cozy arms instead.

Crowley didn’t try practicing any more after that; among other things, Aziraphale was starting to fuss about the amount of wine he was getting through. But, minimal as it had been, his practice paid off at the third week’s lesson. His salsa skills, while certainly not advanced, had slightly surpassed Aziraphale’s.

“Oh dear,” the angel sighed, after they crashed into each other when he’d rotated the wrong direction on a turn. “I am sorry. I’m making a terrible mess of this. You’re doing wonderfully, dear.” He patted Crowley’s hand. Crowley supposed that was part of the marriage pretense, which didn’t stop it from making him dizzy.

“Neglected our practice this week, did we, sweetie?” Ellen swooped in.

“Ahh,” said Aziraphale, looking down shamefacedly. Come to think of it, Crowley realized, startled, he hadn’t awoken to sounds of salsa in the night this week. Maybe Aziraphale had been neglecting to practice, although he couldn’t think why.

“Don’t worry; we’ll have you back in the groove in no time,” Ellen said cheerfully, spiriting him away before Crowley had a chance to object that Aziraphale had never in his life been “in the groove.”

It fell to George to take Crowley through the steps of their next combination, as Crowley revised his conclusion that his practice had paid off. This was the opposite of paying off. The whole point had been to avoid being separated from Aziraphale.

“Eyes this way, love,” sighed George, patiently, recalling him from contemplating the contrast between Ellen’s short black pouf of hair (with a bright red ribbon tonight) and Aziraphale’s fluffy blonde one.

It wasn’t, in fact, very long before Ellen deemed Aziraphale sufficiently “in the groove” (if “the groove” meant sort of stomping his way through the steps in the general vicinity of the beat) and returned him to Crowley. Crowley found himself taking his angel’s hand in relief before they’d even been instructed to get in position—which was fine, right? Since they were pretending to be married. Aziraphale didn’t object, anyway.

 

Afterward (they still weren’t skilled, but managed not to hurt anyone or be separated again for remedial work), Crowley wondered if he, as Aziraphale’s supposed spouse, should stick by his side during the post-lesson mingling. But Aziraphale brought him a cocktail where he stood and didn’t appear to expect him to attempt friendly social interaction with humans, so Crowley kept his slouching spot by the mirror.

His uninhibited Aziraphale-gazing didn’t last long, though; George leaned his sturdy, red-and-black-clad bulk against the mirror next to him after just a few minutes. Crowley wondered if it was some part of his duties as a teacher to make sure nobody was neglected during the semi-mandatory socializing.

“So, how did you two meet?” asked George.

“Mph,” Crowley grunted. “Work thing.”

“You work for the same company?”

“No. Definitely not. I mean—not at the time. Rival companies—sort of family businesses, deep entrenched enemies. We were supposed to be…errrrghh…opposed to each other. Uh…stopping each other. Forbidden to socialize, that sort of thing.”

“Oh,” said George, nodding admiringly, “so you were like—”

Please don’t say Romeo and Juliet,” Crowley groaned.

“Ha!” George laughed, making his locs bounce. “No, love, I was going to say the parents from Spy Kids, actually.”

Crowley choked. He had no plans of ever admitting that he’d seen that movie.

“Everything going well, my dear?” Aziraphale had materialized at his elbow, which was usually Crowley’s trick.

George encompassed Aziraphale in his friendly smile. “He was just telling me how you two met.”

“Oh yes!” Aziraphale’s slight frown transformed into a smile that outshone George’s (and also most lighting fixtures and a number of minor stars). “We were…ah…assigned to the same location. We were…working for—”

“Adversaries! That’s what we were supposed to be,” Crowley’s mind finally clicked. "Representing our…uh…family businesses. Ancient rivalry and all.”

“Yes, our families hated each other,” Aziraphale elaborated, gesturing with his cocktail, eyes widening expressively. He was really committing to this…marriage roleplay, Crowley reflected. “Simply dreadful conflict for generations. Crowley and I were a bit like—”

“Don’t you dare say Romeo and Juliet,” Crowley growled.

Aziraphale patted his arm, his eyes crinkling fondly. “Of course not, my dear. I know you only like the funny ones. No, I was thinking of a rather silly movie called…er…Spy Kids.”

Crowley choked again.

“See, that’s what I said,” George nodded. “So, you met and…what, love at first sight?”

Crowley and Aziraphale looked at each other, suddenly cautious. Crowley wasn’t sure making up a love story had figured into Aziraphale’s “pretending to be a couple” plans. For his own part, he didn’t have much confidence in his ability to make up a story without it being obvious that…well, that he wasn’t making it up.

“We were…a bit suspicious of each other at first,” said Aziraphale carefully. “But…I would say…even in the beginning, we always each saw…something…in the other.” He was watching Crowley intently, as if asking for permission. “It started raining, do you remember?” His smile had gone a touch fragile.

“Course I remember,” Crowley said gruffly. He managed a smirk. “You…uh…took me under your wing. So to speak.”

It was Aziraphale’s turn to choke on his cocktail.

 

“Took you under my wing?” Aziraphale demanded, back in the Bentley, hurtling along a dark street around abominably slow-moving cars. “Really, my dear.”

“Never mind that,” said Crowley. “When did you ever watch Spy Kids?!”

“With Warlock, of course,” Aziraphale replied. “He was decidedly obsessed with it for some time; I can’t believe you’ve forgotten.”

Crowley hadn’t, as that was the reason he’d watched it. Repeatedly. “You were the gardener! What were you doing watching movies with him?”

“Well, I was supposed to be thwarting your evil wiles, if you recall. I had to…er…vet…his viewing material when I could. To be sure of…counteracting your demonic influence, of course.”

Crowley looked at him suspiciously. Aziraphale was staring determinedly out the windscreen, his cheeks a bit pink. “You great sap,” Crowley accused. “You just watched it for the spy parent love story, didn’t you?”

“Watch the road, Crowley!”

Chapter Text

Crowley awoke the next morning, alone in Aziraphale’s bed, and stared at the ceiling without seeing it, trying to work out how, in the name of Hell, or Heaven, or anything, really, he was supposed to make it through the next six days. He had 155 hours before their next lesson, when he could touch his angel again.

He groaned, pulled the blanket tight over his head, curled into a ball.

What he ought to do was get dressed, stumble down the stairs like usual (well, usual now, since he’d practically moved into the bookshop), make some coffee (Aziraphale made good tea but atrociously weak coffee), and settle onto the couch, chatting with or harassing Aziraphale as he always did. Without touching him.

This isn’t hard! You’ve done it for six millennia! he mentally harangued himself.

Yes, and apparently three evenings of dancing, three evenings of letting a few humans think they were married, was enough to undo all the shields and barriers and wrappings he’d put around his heart and his body and his mind—because all he could think of now was the careful softness of Aziraphale’s hand in his, the pleased surprise in Aziraphale’s eyes the first time they’d mastered last night’s new steps, the impulsive squeeze Aziraphale’s hand had given his when Ellen had praised their work. His mind couldn’t stop cataloguing every spot Aziraphale had brushed, clasped, patted over the past three weeks.

He tried out the idea of heading downstairs and sitting in the same room with the angel, bickering about inconsequential topics, pretending he wasn’t thinking of any of that, pretending it didn’t matter

He didn’t think he could do it.

 

Maybe he should go to his own fla—

Scratch that; his mind rejected the thought well before he completed it.

Maybe he and Aziraphale should go somewhere, a long drive, maybe even take a trip for a few days. It wouldn’t resolve his newly-intense craving, but maybe it could distract him, give him something else to think about? He mulled the idea over, still sleepily, before regretfully rejecting it. Aziraphale, for all his talk of new things, hadn’t shown any signs of wanting to leave the bookshop for anything other than their usual meals and occasional park strolls. (The fact that every trip option Crowley could think of only intensified his touch craving was beside the point.)

Maybe he could sleep for the whole week. He could imagine the blanket was Aziraphale’s wing stretched over him (why had he brought that memory up last night?).

As unsatisfyingly not-Aziraphale as the blanket was, this thought was apparently sufficiently soothing—he found himself drifting back to sleep. He probably shouldn’t, he thought vaguely. Aziraphale would worry, probably. Sure, good point. Very good point. He’d get up in a few minutes…

 

Something had his shoulder, tugging, shaking—

“My dear?”

“Zrrrphll,” Crowley slurred, grabbing for whatever was clutching his shoulder—

He squinted. What he’d grabbed was Aziraphale’s wrist. “Whassswrong?” He sat up, his corporation flooding with all those human chemicals that made his heart pound and throat tighten—“What issit? Are you—are we—”

“It’s fine, Crowley—Crowley, for Heaven’s sake, nothing’s wrong—I only—oh, dear; I’m dreadfully sorry; I didn’t mean to alarm you.”

Aziraphale was still awkwardly stooped over him. It took several seconds for Crowley to realize that this was because he still had hold of the angel’s wrist. He stared at it, memorizing the feel of the angel’s soft cardigan sleeve under his fingertips, then came to his senses and released it. “Sorry,” he mumbled, rubbing his face as Aziraphale straightened up and took half a step backward.

“Not at all, dear boy,” said Aziraphale, rocking on his heels. “I…ah…brought you some tea—” he took a gently steaming cup from the bedside table to hand to Crowley—“I know I don’t make coffee the way you like, so I thought that might suffice instead, and—oh, I suppose I shouldn’t have disturbed you, but…”

He trailed off, spreading his hands uncertainly, as Crowley took a sip of the tea and tried to take stock of himself. His heart rate was slowing to something more normal—well, he supposed so; he’d never looked too closely into what was normal for human internal organs. His black silk pajamas were twisted around him in a very undignified way, and from what his hands could determine, his hair was in a similarly unfortunate state. Aziraphale, on the other hand, looked as primly put-together as ever, his hair glowing halo-like in the light from the window.

So it was still daytime, then. Or—

“What day is it?” he asked, still sleepily hoarse.

“It’s only Wednesday, dear. Just before noon. Were you…planning to sleep for a few days?”

“Mmnnnnhhh.” Crowley rubbed his face again, took another sip of tea. “Not really.”

“Oh, good,” said Aziraphale, surprisingly relieved. “I wouldn’t have disturbed you—you did look peaceful—but I thought we could—well, I wondered if you would mind if we...” He gestured expressively but unintelligibly.

“Spit it out, angel.”

“Do hush, dear. I just meant—well, I hoped we might…practice.”

“Practice,” Crowley echoed blankly. “…Ohh. You mean dancing?”

“Yes—you see, I did practice, the first week, but, well, it’s tremendously silly, trying it alone, and I didn’t want—well.” He tugged at his cardigan’s lapels. “I thought, perhaps, if we were to practice…together…maybe we’d be—ah—comparably skilled by the next lesson, and perhaps dear Ellen and George won’t need to give us…extra attention. I know all of this was my idea, and I’ve rather dragged you along with it, and you’ve been a terrifically good sport about it, so I quite understand if you don’t want—I hate to ask you to do any more—”

“Angel—angel—Aziraphale! For the love of—whatever—it’s fine. I don’t mind. Practice. Yes. Brilliant idea, really.”

Aziraphale had paused, his mouth open and a hand in the air—“Ohhh,” he said gustily, his shoulders relaxing. “Oh, thank you, dear.” And he treated Crowley to that beaming smile that was at least twice as befuddling as being pulled out of a sound sleep.

“Ennng,” said Crowley. “Don’t go on about it. I’ll—just, let me get dressed, alright? I’ll be right with you.”

“Oh—well, it is lunchtime. I did think we could eat first.”

“Oh—aaahhherrrr—right. Priorities.”

 

Crowley never could remember where they went or what they ate (or, most likely, what Aziraphale ate) for that lunch. He did remember, with unfortunately painstaking clarity, the moment he stood back in the bookshop, stiffly facing Aziraphale in the middle of the floor. They met each other’s gaze, quickly looked away, and bumped their hands into each other several times as they attempted to place them in the correct locations. Aziraphale snapped his fingers to miracle the music started; they stepped together on the first beat—

Crowley promptly tripped over Aziraphale’s foot and landed on the couch.

“Oh,” said Aziraphale.

“Eck,” said Crowley.

“Ah—was that you or me, dear?”

“No idea.”

“Well. Shall we try again?”

Crowley’s head spun as Aziraphale, who still had one of his hands, helped him to his feet. The head-spinning might have been part of why he tripped again on their next try, somewhere around beat three or four.

“Oh dear,” sighed Aziraphale, pulling him upright again. “Perhaps—perhaps we should try it…ah, try just the steps? I mean, without the music, so we can…choose our own speed, as it were?”

“Own speed,” echoed Crowley vaguely, who would have been happy to continue tripping if it meant Aziraphale’s hand pulling him back up each time, and whose mind had helpfully started to supply additional ideas, such as Aziraphale somehow tumbling down on the sofa next to him—

“Are you ready, dear?”

“Um. Sure.”

Without the pressure of the music, as it turned out, dancing practice was just like their usual time together, just…also with touching (which, on second thought—or rather, multiple, multiple thoughts—was probably absolutely not at all like their usual time together.)

“No—no—Crowley, don’t you remember? We have to make a J with our hands first, then you turn.”

“Don’t see why the J matters, really.”

“You’re hardly one to talk about J’s that don’t matter. Besides, if we don’t do it, we’ll be off the beat.”

“Why’s it have to be a J anyway? Could be an L. Or a C. C’s a perfectly good letter.”

“Why on Earth are you suddenly so opposed to J’s?”

“I’m not; I’m just saying it doesn’t matter what shape you draw. Doesn’t even have to be a letter. Could be a two. Or a…a…what’s the little squiggly thing? Like a dash, but wavy.”

“A tilde? Honestly, Crowley; even I know that nobody knows what a tilde is.”

“Errr…alright, alright; that’s not the point; the point is—the point is that it doesn’t have to be anything. It’s just a—a wiggle. Eurggh, I can’t believe I just said wiggle.”

“Oh, for Heav—for goodness’ sake, let’s start again, and do remember to get some sort of wiggle on before you start turning.”

“Aaagghh.”

 

Crowley wasn’t sure if they actually improved at dancing over the course of the afternoon, but by some point, they ended up sharing the couch (on opposite ends, but still sharing it), passing a bottle of wine back and forth as the late-summer sun vanished outside, so he figured the day on the whole had been a success. He dozed off eventually and woke up to Aziraphale’s hand on his shoulder again, this time more gently, or something—not panic-inducing, anyway.

“Would you like to stretch out, dear boy?”

Crowley mumbled some sort of assent to this, flopped down the length of the couch, and drowsily watched Aziraphale settle himself into his chair with a book and unnecessary spectacles. He thought of staying awake to watch Aziraphale read all night, but his body betrayed him. The next thing he knew, he was opening his eyes to the same view of Aziraphale, but now with morning sunbeams slanting in behind him, slipping over his shoulders and glowing in his hair.

Would the angel notice if time froze for a while, Crowley wondered?

Before Crowley’s sleep-addled brain could come to a conclusion about that, Aziraphale’s eyes flicked to him, over the spectacles, and the book-focused gaze relaxed into a smile.

“Good morning, dear. Pleasant night?”

Crowley would have given—maybe not the Bentley, but at least a signed Freddie Mercury album—for the ability to rewind time in addition to stopping it, so that he could have that moment over and over.

“’S’all right,” he rasped. “What time’sssit?”

“Around nine, I believe.” Aziraphale’s eyes were widening with that familiar hopeful smile. “I was hoping you might be awake in time for a spot of breakfast.”

To Crowley’s definite disbelief, the next few days settled into a pattern, and even less believably, a pattern he liked—breakfast with Aziraphale in the mornings, perhaps a bit of frightening away potential bookshop customers in the next few hours, dancing practice in the afternoons (with and without alcoholic assistance), drifting to sleep on the couch in the evenings. And then waking, again and again, to the sight of Aziraphale reading in morning September sunlight.

He wanted to hold on to it desperately at the same time that he was terrified of looking at it too closely.

Also to his surprise, considering the amount of wine that had been involved, their practice resulted in noticeable benefits at the next lesson. Though they could not be considered good by any stretch of the imagination (even Crowley’s very stretchy imagination), they were…well, less bad. Their teachers saw no need to separate them, so Crowley had a full 90 minutes of near-uninterrupted Aziraphale contact. He thought he might faint. Or float. He didn’t even feel a jealous pang—well, almost didn’t—when Ellen (green ribbon tonight) patted Aziraphale’s cheek and congratulated him on his work. And when George and his green and yellow shirt leaned next to him against the mirror after the lesson, Crowley managed something like a smile in response to George’s praise. It helped that Aziraphale appeared, on cue, a few moments later. This time Aziraphale took Crowley’s arm in a way that might have been interpreted as possessive to someone who thought they were a couple (well, a couple couple) before ushering him out the door.

Chapter Text

Crowley woke up the next morning on the couch, looked to Aziraphale’s chair for his morning greeting—

His not-fully awake gaze encountered a void of faded upholstery that he didn’t comprehend. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried again.

Early-Autumn sunlight was cascading in to land on a chair that was entirely devoid of a book-perusing angel.

Crowley was abruptly upright. “Angel?” His voice was shockingly hoarse, and he didn’t care at all.

There was no answer; he’d known there wouldn’t be. The bookshop had a feeling of emptiness that could only be explained by a lack of angelic presence.

“Angel! Aziraphale!” he called again uselessly.

He looked desperately to the unhelpfully vacant chair—

Wait—he squinted—

A sunbeam highlighted a piece of stiff notepaper, folded tentlike, perched on top of Aziraphale’s book where it sat on his small table.

Crowley still might not have noted it, except that it had his name on. As it was, he was already holding it before he was fully aware that he’d left the couch.

The inside, written in Aziraphale’s angular handwriting, was brief but still managed to be thoroughly Aziraphalian in its formality, in a way that would probably amuse Crowley when he’d calmed down.

My dear Crowley,

I do hope you’ve had a pleasant night. I’ve gone to fetch us some breakfast pastries at the lovely new place down the street and shall return soon.

Yours,

Aziraphale

 

Crowley read it at least three times, sinking back onto the couch as his human-ish heart returned to its usual location.

My dear Crowleygone to fetch us some breakfast pastries (“By yourself?” Crowley said aloud, indignantly)…Yours, Aziraphale.

To his consternation, his vision swam and his throat tightened. He frowned and sent a very stern (and ineffective) order to his corporation that tears or other sentimental reactions were entirely unnecessary; this was just a note about pastries and not at all deserving of any kind of big deal being made of it.

It wasn’t the note, he admitted, wiping his eyes. They’d sent notes since…well, since notes had existed—actually, Crowley couldn’t swear that they hadn’t invented the idea. They’d always kept them carefully anonymous and unidentifiable, and Crowley knew that Aziraphale had always circumspectly disposed of the ones Crowley had sent him—always cautious, always hiding and disguising the evidence that they even knew each other:

 

A—

Meet at the usual place

—C.

 

My dear C—

I should like a word. Please meet at the first alternative location.

Yours,

A.

 

There hadn’t been a need for sending notes since the apocalypse—well, not the apocalypse—the non-pocalypse—since August, anyway—because Crowley had rarely left the bookshop for long enough for a note of any type to reach him. But if he had thought about Aziraphale sending him a note, which he definitely hadn’t, nor had he thought about writing notes himself, to leave for Aziraphale at random locations in the bookshop, nor of Aziraphale’s eye-rolling but fond reaction when he found them—

Anyway, if he had thought of anything like that, he would have assumed that Aziraphale would carry on the same tradition of secrecy.

So it wasn’t the note itself that was still causing Crowley’s breath to catch in his throat, and it wasn’t even his surge of relief at knowing that nothing untoward had taken Aziraphale from the shop.

It was the names.

His fingers wouldn’t stop brushing over his name, Aziraphale’s name—full names, no furtive initials, written out clearly in his angel’s hand.

The evidence that Aziraphale was no longer afraid to leave evidence.

Sure, it wasn’t the equivalent of Crowley’s devouring, generally unbearable…er…yeah—but it was so much more than he’d ever—

The familiar jingle-creak of the front door signaled Aziraphale’s return. Crowley wiped his face again, ran a hand through his disarrayed hair.

“Oh, lovely; you’re awake,” said Aziraphale. “I hope you found my note. I must admit, I was growing rather peckish.”

“Could’ve woken me,” Crowley shrugged. “I’d’ve gone with you.”

“I know, dear, but I thought you deserved a bit of a lie-in, especially after that delightful lesson last night. You’ve been—well, I do know how you enjoy sleeping, and I’ve worried that I’ve been—ah—asking too much, recently.” He trailed off tentatively.

Crowley peered at him. “What are you on about, angel? What’d you bring for breakfast?”

Breakfast, as promised, was pastries, an abundance of them that they both pretended wouldn’t be eaten primarily by Aziraphale, but also a flaky thing with apple filling that Aziraphale knew Crowley would like. All very ordinary, although Crowley couldn’t escape an impression that Aziraphale seemed nervous, somehow. The angel kept glancing at him, a tiny crease between his eyebrows, and pressing food samples on him with more vehemence than usual.

“But I have been worried, Crowley,” Aziraphale said after they’d cleared things away, as if they hadn’t been pursuing completely unrelated topics for the past half hour, “that perhaps I’ve been a bit…well, demanding, over the past few weeks.”

Crowley stared blankly. “You’re going to have to be more specific.”

“Well, ah, you know”—Aziraphale twisted his fingers together—“breakfast every morning, practicing every afternoon—why, you’ve scarcely been to tend to your plants in the last week. And I do realize all of this was my idea—I mean, the dancing, the—the new things in general. I’d hate for—I don’t at all want you to feel pressured to do anything you dislike, and I certainly don’t want to—to change anything that you don’t want to change.”

“Ehhrrrr,” said Crowley. “D’you think I don’t…I…why would…nnnhhh. I’m fine, angel.”

“Are—are you quite sure, dear boy?”

“Course—of course, I”—Crowley stopped, tilted his head. “Angel, when have ever complained about trying new things?”

Aziraphale rolled his eyes, though mildly. “Well. If you’re sure.” He took in a breath and set his round shoulders. “I—I had thought of a few others, if you’re at all interested.”

Crowley suddenly remembered sitting with a barely drinkable Roman beverage, an angel’s eyes gleaming with the words “let me tempt you—”

“Go on,” he prompted, feeling his lips curve in a fond smile.

“Well, in strict accuracy,” Aziraphale started, adjusting his coat, “I should say this isn’t new; in fact, I suppose it’s very old, but…well, we haven’t in a very long—or ever, really—”

Crowley rested his cheek on his hand, figuring Aziraphale would get to the point eventually. The angel verbally meandered around for a while longer, finally petering out with “…but I’m not sure whether you’d—well, it is dreadfully, ah—that is, it’s, well…” He fluttered his hands rather desperately. Crowley raised his eyebrows, as patiently as possible.

“Wings,” Aziraphale finally stated.

“Wings, right,” Crowley repeated. “Errrr…what about them?”

“Well, I know yours are in good shape, but I must admit I’ve let mine get a bit untidy—”

A bit untidy?” Crowley demanded, sitting up straighter. “Don’t you give me ‘a bit untidy.’ I saw that—that fluffy mess when we were—ehhnnngg, wherever that was, with Adam—honestly, angel, when was the last time you paid any attention to them?”

“Well, that’s exactly my point, Crowley; they do need…attention, and I was hoping…I mean, of course, only if you—ah, had the time, and—and of course, I could do the same for you—I know yours don’t need it nearly as badly, but—”

“Oh!” Comprehension crashed into Crowley. “You mean you want me to groom them?”

Aziraphale looked away shyly. “Only—only if you wanted to, my dear.”

“For—whoever’s sake, angel; why didn’t you say so? I’ve wanted to since…ngghhh.” He waved a hand, self-censoring (since the accurate end of that sentence was “Eden”).

“You have?” Aziraphale’s eyes locked back onto his, lighting up in that way that had once made Crowley miracle Hamlet into possibly the world’s most successful play.

Yes,” Crowley replied firmly.

“Oh, good,” Aziraphale sighed with relief. “That’s very kind of you; I was terribly worried it would be too much trouble.”

“Shut up,” Crowley rolled his eyes. “Where should we go to…uh…get started?”

They were eventually forced to conclude that the bedroom, specifically the bed, was the only place with enough room for an angelic or demonic wingspan (short of miracling a few bookshelves out of the way, which Aziraphale absolutely refused to consider).

As often as he’d dreamed about being in the same bed with Aziraphale—even specifically wrapped up in Aziraphale’s wings in bed—Crowley was not remotely prepared for the sight of the angel stretched out on his belly (fully clothed in his usual slacks and cardigan, which only added to the surrealism), wings extended to their full span on either side of him, drooping off the edges like feathery curtains. He took a deep breath and reminded himself that this was just part of Aziraphale’s new interest in new things. It didn’t have any…meaning…beyond that. It was just like…giving a friend a shoulder rub, or—or something, he told himself as he gingerly sat beside Aziraphale, determinedly looking just at his left wing and not any other part of him. It wasn’t anything—he cast around for any word other than “intimate” and couldn’t find one. Anyway, it wasn’t that.

“Oh!” Aziraphale gasped as Crowley adjusted the first white feather. Crowley pulled his hands back immediately.

“Did I hurt you?”

“No, of course not,” said Aziraphale. “It’s not painful, exactly. It’s just terribly…”

Don’t say intimate, Crowley thought. Don't say intimate don’t say intimate don’t say

“…intimate,” Aziraphale finished.

Crowley stared at a couple of primary feathers, very glad Aziraphale was looking away from him as a blush flooded his face. “I’ll…um…just be…errrghhnnn…careful,” he said feebly.

He continued to tell himself that this was strictly…sociable. Maybe not even sociable. Business-like. He was all business. Practically a professional wing-groomer.

The lie was too ludicrous to maintain. This had to be the most intimate thing they’d ever done. Well…maybe not; he’d literally been inside Aziraphale’s body less than two months ago. On the other hand, as Aziraphale hadn’t been there at the time, it didn’t seem to count in the same way. Wings were…sensitive, and…and private, and here he was touching Aziraphale’s, making him give little twitches and shivers as Crowley straightened stray feathers.

“All right,” he said eventually, his voice basically a whisper, “I’m going to switch to your other side now. Just—just tell me if I hurt you, all right?”

“You won’t, my dear,” said Aziraphale, sounding drowsy. “You’re doing…simply wonderfully. I’m terribly grateful.”

“Ngk,” said Crowley. He was blushing again—well, still; it wasn’t as though he’d stopped—but at a higher intensity. He thought the second wing might be easier; it was just a repeat of the same process as the first wing, right? But apparently this wasn’t something that he could acclimate to over time. Every stroke of his fingers through white feathers, every intake of breath from Aziraphale, was just as overwhelming as the first time. He adjusted feather after feather, smoothed bent ones, repositioned out-of-place ones. Somehow his hands kept moving even though his fingers were prickling as if approaching consecrated ground and his head was spinning so fast he thought it might achieve orbit.

“I—I think that’s all I can do for now,” he said finally, not steadily. “They need…euurrggh…regular maintenance, not just once every…century, you know.” He tried for his usual mocking tone and failed extravagantly at reaching it.

“Oh, thank you, my dear,” said Aziraphale, who looked a bit dazed himself. He sat up on the bed and gingerly folded his wings away. “They feel ever so much better. Now, you must allow me to do the same for you.”

“You don’t have to—” Crowley started—

“Please, Crowley,” said Aziraphale, with that look. As if asking to groom Crowley’s wings was somehow asking Crowley for a favor.

“All right, all right,” Crowley capitulated.

He positioned himself on the bed, gritted his teeth, and manifested his wings. (As with Aziraphale, this didn’t affect his clothes. Wings, being metaphysical, didn’t care about clothes. Clothes didn’t care about wings either.)

“Oh, my dear,” came Aziraphale’s voice, softly, from behind him, “your wings are simply lovely.”

“Eh—” Crowley tried, and gave up.

“They don’t need much in the way of—ah—repair,” said Aziraphale. “I suppose I can do some...combing…as, as preventive maintenance.”

“Mmmk,” agreed Crowley.

Crowley groomed his own wings often enough to be well-acquainted with the twitchiness of the sensitive skin, the core-deep pull of the feathers as they were manipulated. He should, he told himself, be reasonably prepared for the feeling of being groomed by Aziraphale.

In a long history of telling himself inaccurate things, that one was up there in the “spectacularly inaccurate” category.

With Aziraphale’s first touch, he drew in a hissing breath that startled both of them. Aziraphale drew back.

“Did I hurt you, my dear?”

“Nn-nnh.” Crowley made a vague motion with his hand—trapped between the bed and his wing—that he hoped indicated that Aziraphale should proceed.

It was as though Aziraphale was touching the core of his being. Goosebumps rippled across his corporation, overlapping waves of exquisite sensitivity. He could feel the skin of his wings twitching and couldn’t seem to do anything to stop it. He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his lips together—he certainly didn’t trust himself to talk. The resulting silence was so complete that he could hear the faint rasping of feathers against feathers, the susurration of Aziraphale’s breathing.

Aziraphale’s shaky breathing.

“Angel?” he asked hoarsely, forgetting his resolution to keep his mouth closed. “You all right?”

“Ah—yes, quite,” said Aziraphale, a bit too brightly. “Are—are you?”

“Um—yeah,” he replied. “It’s just—it’s like you sssaid.” Under no circumstances would he say the word intimate out loud.

Aziraphale paused. “Do you want me to stop, my dear?”

“No!” escaped Crowley before he had a chance to think. He swallowed. “Nnnnggh. N-no. It’ssss nice.”

“Well. If you’re sure.”

“Mmmmhhh.”

Aziraphale moved on to the second wing far too soon for Crowley’s liking, not that Crowley let himself say anything. He was finding that once the first shockwave of…intimacy…had receded, the gentleness of Aziraphale’s fingers along his feathers was druggingly relaxing. He could almost fall asleep to this. In fact…

 


 

Crowley awoke to a much dimmer room than he remembered.

He turned his head toward a faint glow, and again contemplated freezing time to enjoy the sight of Aziraphale, seated neatly in a chair beside the bed, reading in the warm glow of a lamp. He smiled at Crowley over his spectacles.

“Hello, dear boy.”

“Angel,” Crowley said, blurrily, still partially tucked under his own wing, “is it…night?”

“Well, only just, but yes.”

Crowley struggled to sit up, nearly clipping Aziraphale with a wingtip before he remembered to fold them away.

“We forgot to practice,” was inexplicably the first sentence his fuzzy brain produced. He found he was tangled in something—not his wings anymore; he’d put them away, he reminded himself. It took him a few seconds to realize it was a blanket, and a few more to realize that Aziraphale must have spread it over him. His heart contracted in that not-quite-painful way it had been doing recently.

“Practice dancing, you mean?” Aziraphale was saying. “Not to worry, my dear. We can practice tomorrow; I’m sure we won’t have lost too much progress.”

“Aziraphale,” said Crowley, inspecting him—he had the look of an angel who’d spent the day with a book, not moving, “have you eaten since breakfast?”

Aziraphale raised his eyebrows. “Well, no, I suppose I haven’t. I don’t have to, you know.”

“Obviously I know that,” Crowley frowned. “It’s just that you usually do eat.”

“I’m perfectly capable of making an exception every now and then,” Aziraphale replied. “I didn’t want you to—that is, I wanted to—” he pressed his lips together. “I got caught up in my reading. Anyway. How are you feeling?”

He was changing the subject, and Crowley would have pursued this, except that the question of how he was feeling was a good deal more distracting than usual. His wings, despite not being present in this plane of reality, were…tingling. Metaphysically. His hands were suffused with the feel of Aziraphale’s feathers under his fingers, like pain from a phantom limb (he guessed; he’d never lost a limb, so he didn’t have personal experience to draw from). The rest of him was still dredging itself up from sleep, and processing the idea of Aziraphale sitting next to him while he slept, in Aziraphale’s bedroom

“Let’s go get a late dinner,” he said. “Somewhere’s probably still open. Or dessert. Or drinks.”

Somewhere was. They had drinks. And dessert. Aziraphale said it was scrumptious.

 

Over the next several days, they resumed their pattern of the previous week—lazy breakfasts, afternoon dancing practice, evening wine indulgence—with a few key differences. The first was that, instead of drifting off on the couch, Crowley was back to sleeping in the bed—but now instead of waking to an empty room in the mornings, he woke to Aziraphale with a book in the bedside chair, reading lamp supplementing the early-October sunlight filtering in through the dusty window. He didn’t dare ask Aziraphale for the reason behind this shift, for fear the angel might notice that there had been a shift, or might remember how much more convenient it was to read downstairs in the bookshop, surrounded by all the books he could want, rather than up in the bedroom where he had to fetch and carry the books up and down the stairs. So he appreciated the lovely illusion of domesticity in silence.

Another change was that Crowley’s craving for touch (fed but never satiated with their dancing practice) had now been exacerbated by a very specific desire for wing-related touches. He caught himself…fantasizing (ugh)…about Aziraphale’s hands buried in his feathers, his own hands stroking down the length of Aziraphale’s wings, Aziraphale wrapping his wings around both of them…

The third change came in their fifth and penultimate dancing lesson the next Tuesday.

“You’ve all learned the basic steps to a tee, loves,” Ellen praised the class (Aziraphale, in full pretend-spouse mode, squeezed Crowley’s hand warmly). “So the last two lessons are on improvisation.” She and George (wearing Autumn-colored outfits tonight, if Autumn came in almost-neon) beamed at the group as if this were a treat. Aziraphale’s hand tightened on Crowley’s with an entirely different emotion.

Both Aziraphale and Crowley were, by now, passably good at the basic salsa steps. They hadn’t tripped over each other in at least a week. Aziraphale still tended to silently count the beats, but he’d begun moving with more confidence. Crowley still tended to fling himself about a little excessively, but he was able to confine the flinging to within the designated rhythm.

Improvisation was a disaster.

Five beats in, they collided into each other’s backs; Aziraphale had turned one way while Crowley turned the other. They managed to face each other again, untangling like a game of Twister in reverse.

“Ah—let’s try that again, shall we?” said Aziraphale weakly. Crowley, thinking of wings springing from their shoulders, kept his mouth tautly shut and nodded.

“Salsa is about spontaneity,” Ellen monologued as the couples stumbled about. “Taking the basic moves and transforming them together into something artistic, something exciting—something free!”

Aziraphale’s eyes met Crowley’s through his sunglasses with something very much like panic; Crowley tripped over Aziraphale’s foot and was only saved from tumbling to the floor because he lurched into George’s very sturdy bulk.

“You’ll get there, love,” said George, hauling Crowley upright by his elbow. “It’s all about learning to follow each other’s signals.”

Crowley looked back to Aziraphale, hoping for some sort of signal to follow, but Aziraphale was looking instead at George, very frostily.

“Thank you, I’m sure,” he said in a tone that Crowley found alarming. He thought it best to distract Aziraphale by taking his hands again.

“Eh—where were we, angel?”

A few seconds later, they lumbered into the youngish lesbian couple, who weren’t doing any better than they were, but were giggling instead of panicking, and waved aside Aziraphale’s flustered apologies. Crowley kept expecting George and Ellen to swoop in and separate them for tutorials, but, as Ellen explained to the group at large—

“You’ve been learning from us, and now it’s time to learn from each other! Feel each other’s cues, sense each other’s reactions. Let the music work its way into you, and express yourselves together!”

Behind her, George caught a grandfatherly-looking student before he hit the ground and set him gently back on his feet.

 

During the post-lesson cocktails, for the first time, Aziraphale barely circulated—he came to join Crowley by the mirror well before George meandered over.

“Shall we go, dear?” he asked, his politeness a thin veneer over something a good bit more shaken.

Back in the Bentley, Crowley sat numbly in the driver’s seat while Aziraphale dropped his head into his hands with a groan. “That was a nightmare.”

“It wasn’t—it wasn’t that bad,” Crowley said, inaccurately. Aziraphale gave him a withering look.

“Well,” Crowley tried, remembering another time in the Bentley, Aziraphale with a moustache drawn on his lip and cake smeared across his face, “we weren’t…that much worse than anyone else.”

Aziraphale ignored this encouragement. “I have no idea what I was thinking,” he mumbled.

“Wait,” said Crowley, his throat seizing up. “You—we can’t give up.”

Aziraphale looked up at him, startled. “You don’t want to?”

“Course not,” said Crowley, panicking at the thought of losing the excuse to touch Aziraphale, of Aziraphale moving to the country, of losing the…whatever they’d gained since Aziraphale had been struck with his desire to try new things. “I mean, be silly to quit with just the one lesson to go, yeah? And…and we can do this. Probably. And even if we can’t—we should see it through, right?”

Aziraphale was gazing at him with his lips slightly parted (Crowley was struck by the urge to kiss them, but that was normal), and slowly they curved into a faint smile.

“Oh,” he said, “thank you, my dear.” He reached for Crowley’s hand and squeezed it (right—that was a thing they did now, even when they weren’t pretending to be married). “You’re right, of course. It would be very silly to stop now when we’re nearly finished. I just had a bit of a wobble there.” His smile was still shaky, but he set his shoulders more firmly. “We’ll just…keep practicing, and I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

They drove home and drank a good deal of wine.

Chapter Text

“Maybe we should put some cushions down,” Crowley suggested the next day, as Aziraphale hauled him to his feet for the third time. He was almost used to that by now (if by “almost” you meant “not even close, not ever”).

Aziraphale sighed and sat down on the couch, neatly but a bit heavily. “Perhaps we should stop for the day,” he said. “I certainly don’t want you to end up with an injury, dear boy.” His eyes ran worriedly over Crowley.

“Errr,” said Crowley, who admittedly was developing a bruise on his hip that he’d likely have to miracle away later, “’m fine, if you want to…I mean, we don’t have to give it up yet.”

Aziraphale smiled reassuringly, if tiredly. “I’m not giving up, my dear. I’m only saying that we’ve been at it for half an hour now, so we’ve certainly earned a rest. Have a seat; I’ll fetch us a bottle of something.”

The bottle of something (shared from opposite ends of the couch; Crowley considered shifting closer but wasn’t brave enough) turned into another bottle or two of something else as the afternoon progressed, improvisation practice abandoned for the day.

 

“Crowley, I’ve been thinking,” Aziraphale said the next day after lunch. “Perhaps we should stick to practicing the regular routine this week. If we’re very good at the basic steps, I would think that would make improvisation easier, wouldn’t it?”

“Sure,” said Crowley, who wasn’t. “I’m up for whatever kind of practice you want, angel.”

So they practiced the basic routine each day. Crowley wasn’t much of a judge of dancing, but he thought it was possible that they were, in fact, reasonably good at it by now. Good enough that…well…it was—maybe—just a bit…unfulfilling…by the end of the week to continue to practice the basics without moving on to anything more advanced.

Crowley wondered if Aziraphale had any more plans for introducing “new things” into the rest of their routine, but the angel didn’t bring that up this week. He did continue to read in the bedroom at night while Crowley slept in the bed, as if he somehow hadn’t noticed that he’d changed locations after centuries. Crowley continued to appreciate it silently, and told himself that it was silly to begin thinking of Aziraphale withhim in the bed, reading one-handed with the other running through Crowley’s hair, letting Crowley snuggle into his soft side, cradling both of them in his wings and drawing Crowley in for a kiss—

Again, he wasn’t thinking about any of that.

 

Their performance at the sixth and final lesson was marginally better than in the fifth lesson. Possibly. Crowley managed not to crash into George this time, but this was only because Aziraphale tightened his grip every time Crowley tripped, keeping him barely on his feet and resulting in Crowley swinging around wildly. He supposed it was a bit better than falling.

Their basic problem with improvisation was that by the time Aziraphale decided what move to make, and then Crowley deciphered what Aziraphale wanted him to do, they were several beats off from the music and had to reset entirely. They blundered through the lesson, managing one clumsy improvised move at a time, halting in confusion, resetting, starting the process again.

Aziraphale was looking drained by the end, but he managed to circulate amongst their classmates (Crowley noted that his usual kind smile had a forced edge to it tonight, though).

“Looking better tonight, love,” said George cheerfully, leaning on the mirror next to Crowley (his and Ellen’s outfits for this lesson were orange and black, in a design that was either a wildly inaccurate Hawaiian pattern or a dismembered Jack-o-lantern).

Crowley raised a sardonic eyebrow above his sunglasses.

“I mean it,” George said sincerely. “I know it doesn’t feel right yet, but you’ve got the first step down. From here on out, it’s just practicing until it clicks.”

Crowley very nearly swallowed his pride to desperately ask George how on Earth they were supposed to practice in a way that would lead to “clicking,” but at that point Aziraphale appeared.

“Quite finished, dear?” The forced quality of his smile was decidedly more noticeable.

“Yep,” Crowley said, hurriedly.

 

“Angel,” said Crowley the next day in the aftermath of their practice session (nobody had fallen, but Crowley had swung into a bookcase, collapsing two dangerously-leaning stacks of—well, at any rate, they were both now a good bit dustier, and Aziraphale had broken out the scotch). “You were good at the gavotte, right?”

“But that was entirely different!” Aziraphale said, wringing his hands.

“I didn’t mean—” Crowley started, but Aziraphale was continuing as if Crowley had accidentally tapped into a flood that had been building for some time—

“The gavotte is—was—well, there was a plan. It went perfectly as long as everyone did exactly the right thing, in the right place, at the right time.” He was on his feet again, pacing. “And I’m sure that sounds terribly boring to you, but when everything went right, it really could be quite delightful. There was a…a camaraderie that was—well. And I was good at it, yes.” He stopped pacing; his shoulders sagged. “This”—he waved a hand that indicated everything from Crowley to their small practice space to the re-stacked piles of books—“this is supposed to be spontaneous. It’s not following a plan, it’s—it’s communicating, and responding, in the moment, and—well, you know I’m simply not any good at being spontaneous.”

“Well,” said Crowley, paused, tried again. “Well…it’s not as though it has to be anything elaborate. And you’re the one in the lead, so…it’s whatever you want, really.”

“But it’s not!” Aziraphale protested, looking even more distressed, which was the opposite of what Crowley had been aiming for. “I can’t simply lead without consideration. You—the partn—the other person—has to…to respond, has to be ready for whatever I try—has to be…comfortable…has to take the steps at the same pace.”

“Um,” said Crowley.

Aziraphale sat back down, this time in his chair.

“Also my hips don’t move that way,” he added glumly.

“Ehhh,” said Crowley, who hadn’t been prepared for any of this conversation, and certainly not for a discussion of Aziraphale’s hips.

“Ah, don’t mind me, my dear,” said Aziraphale, shaking himself. “Perhaps we could decide what we’d like to wear for the recital.”

Crowley had been avoiding thinking about the recital, for different reasons than Aziraphale, but picking out formalwear with Aziraphale had definite appeal. Among other things, Aziraphale had decided that, as alleged spouses, their ensembles should match. This meant a shopping trip the next day (“Well, we are preparing for the recital,” Aziraphale had rationalized when Crowley had pointed out that this would take up their practice time), full of the pretend-spouse touches that Crowley was apparently now addicted to.

“I do think tailcoats would be best,” Aziraphale said to the salesperson. “Wouldn’t you agree, my dear?” he added to Crowley, accompanying his usual hopeful glance with an affectionate squeeze of Crowley’s arm (only six more days of this, commented the bitter part of Crowley’s brain that he’d been trying to ignore).

Even if the hopeful light in Aziraphale’s eyes hadn’t melted all of Crowley’s willpower, he would still have agreed that tailcoats were best for salsa dancing, given that neither of them currently wanted to wear a dress—something needed to flare when they spun, after all. (Assuming they managed to spin without falling over.) They settled on their usual contrasting colors—Aziraphale in white, with a muted gold bowtie and waistcoat; Crowley in black, with silver bowtie and waistcoat.

“But you should have something that matches,” the salesperson urged them. Crowley and Aziraphale exchanged a glance over her head. “Pocket squares, maybe?” she suggested. They bought a few pocket squares to appease her.

 

By Tuesday, they could (at times) get through two improvised moves in a row before falling behind the beat. Crowley had suggested at one point that they just plan out what they would do in the improvised portion, and practice it ahead of time, but Aziraphale had shut that down with a horrified “But that would be cheating!”

“Well, at least we’ll look good,” said Crowley, surveying them both in a mirror after they’d donned their tailcoated tuxedos. He was rewarded with a nervous smile from Aziraphale.

“Oh!” the angel said, turning to the bag from the shop. “Now where are—ah! Here we are.”

He’d brought out the pocket squares. He gave one of them a shake, like performing a magic trick, except with actual magic—its plain blue shimmered and transformed into his usual tartan pattern. “I thought—” his glance to Crowley had gone shy—“I thought that I rather agreed with the young lady in the shop. I—I do think it would be nice if we had something matching—or at least something of each other’s.”

He was deftly folding the pocket square as he spoke. “If—that is, if you don’t mind?” he faltered, his eyes searching Crowley’s face.

Crowley was still processing the idea of Aziraphale suggesting that they should publicly display anything that indicated they were…together…in any way, pretend marriage or not. “Uh,” he said, unfreezing himself with some effort, “’course—‘course not, angel. Don’t mind at all.”

“Oh, good,” Aziraphale smiled, relieved. “May I, my dear?” And he tucked the folded tartan square into Crowley’s pocket, neatly arranging the little corners, then stepped back to take in a full view of Crowley. “Very dashing.”

“Ngk,” said Crowley, then, taking refuge in something familiar: “Euuurh, I can’t believe you’re making me wear tartan.” It came out in a tone that he very much feared could be described as “doting.”

“It’s stylish,” said Aziraphale with dignity, though something about him seemed to be waiting for something.

“Err—oh!” Crowley said. “Hand me one of those.” He took a pocket square and miracled it red. “At least you get to wear something that’s actually stylish.” He folded it and tucked it into Aziraphale’s pocket, trying to pretend this was something they did all the time. An expert at tucking pocket squares into his best friend’s pocket, him.

 

The glow of fine clothing was not nearly enough to soothe Aziraphale’s nerves, as became very obvious on their drive to the studio—Aziraphale didn’t complain about Crowley’s driving at all. Crowley parked dangerously (still with no comments from Aziraphale) and shut off the engine, and for a moment they sat without speaking in the parking lot of Takin’ Steps Dance Studios. It was Aziraphale who broke the silence.

“We should have had you take the lead.” His voice was quiet but heavy.

“Nah,” said Crowley immediately. Aziraphale looked at him with eyebrows raised; Crowley shrugged. “I’d go too fast.”

Aziraphale pressed his lips together painfully, looking away from Crowley, and for—for something’s sake, that had been exactly the wrong thing to say. Aziraphale was about to get out of the car; Crowley could see him moving for the door handle—

“Hey. Aziraphale.” He reached over, squeezed the angel’s hand (because that was a thing they did now), brought his own hand back to his knee. “You know you can…trust me, right? To follow your lead.”

Aziraphale turned slowly back to face him, his face nearly as tremulous as when Crowley had offered his place for the night, if you like, and—

Oh.

He hadn’t known.

“Angel, I—” Crowley floundered, not sure how to reassure him. “I—whatever you want to do. I mean, even if we make a mistake, we’ll just keep going, I s’pose.”

Aziraphale’s eyes were fixed on Crowley’s face. “I suppose so,” he said slowly, uncertainly.

“Nnnnghh, and really the worst that can happen is we both fall over,” Crowley continued, shrugging. Aziraphale’s lips twitched, though it could have been with annoyance or amusement or trepidation or all three.

“Honestly, we’ve literally faced down Heaven and Hell,” said Crowley, waving a hand. “This is just a stage and some lights and a couple dozen humans.”

Aziraphale’s mouth twitched again, too weakly to be a smile but closer. “That—that’s true, yes.”

“And I did fall over, remember? That—that day. Tadfield.” Crowley pointed out. He could still smell brimstone and feel the tarmac scraping at his hands if he wasn’t careful. “And—and you were the one who pulled me back up.”

The angel’s brows knitted. “I didn’t—”

“You did,” Crowley said firmly. “I’d given up so many times that day, and you—you never did.” In the end, what had pulled Crowley off the ground had been the promise that, if he could come up with something, he’d still have Aziraphale. And here they were. He wasn’t sure what they were, but whatever it was, they were together.

“Oh, my dear,” said Aziraphale, taking Crowley’s hand, and his smile was shaky but it was there. He took in a steadying breath. “You’re right; it’s only dancing. We’ve done much more frightening things.” He looked resolutely toward the door of the studio. “Shall we?”

“’Course, angel.”

Aziraphale offered his arm as they walked in; Crowley took it (of course), pushing away both the thought that tonight might be their last night to do things like that and the hope that it might not be. Once inside, Aziraphale didn’t seem inclined to let go of him, so Crowley let himself be towed along to mingle with their classmates, who were very inclined to gush over their tuxedo ensembles. Aziraphale did his share of gushing over the others as well; Crowley did his best to roll his eyes at him, but this was compromised by his gratitude that the gushing was probably distracting Aziraphale from his nerves. And besides, their classmates did look impressive (walking through the practice room was like strolling through an extravagant tropical garden, if tropical plants wore tuxedos). Their instructors topped everyone, though, Ellen in a gold-sequined dress and George in a gold-sequined tuxedo coat with black trim.

Soon enough (or too soon), it was time for the performance to start. They all filed into the front row of the studio’s little theater, where a smattering of their classmates’ friends and relatives were already seated in ascending rows behind them. Crowley and Aziraphale would be the third couple to go (they were going in alphabetical order, and they’d registered under Fell). This was good, Crowley thought, ignoring the first couple—he certainly wouldn’t have wanted to go first, but waiting to the end would have been excruciatingly nervewracking. As it was, they were just after the grandmother/grandfather-looking couple and just before the youngish lesbian couple (Crowley had made it a point not to learn anyone’s names). The grandparent-looking couple cheated, Crowley noted; they repeated the basic routine during the improvisation section.

“Told you we could have planned out the improv section,” he whispered to Aziraphale as they watched from the wings, waited for their turn.

“Mm,” said the angel through tightly-pressed lips. He was looking a little green again. Not that Crowley was feeling much better; it was only Aziraphale’s hand tightly holding his that was keeping him from pacing around the tiny backstage space like a demon-shaped windup toy.

And then, much more abruptly than seemed possible, it was their turn. George and Ellen ushered them onstage (reflected stage light scintillating distractingly off their sequins), and…left them there. Crowley felt unreasonably abandoned; he focused on Aziraphale, whose eyes were wide and terrified. Crowley guessed that his own looked much the same behind his glasses. They positioned their hands gingerly—Crowley’s heart was about to fly out of his throat—

And then the music started; they moved automatically in the first step and—

And then Crowley’s nerves were gone. They could do this routine in their sleep by now, probably—they’d certainly done it in states of considerable drunkenness. They spun—white and black coattails flaring, light glinting off gold and silver waistcoats—came back together—and he realized from the firm way Aziraphale took his hands again that the angel’s nerves were gone too. This was gorgeous, he thought—why hadn’t they tried dancing before? They should have been doing this for years.

It’s gorgeous until it all falls apart in the improv section, said the nasty part of his mind. He told it to bugger off.

They reached the end of the basic routine, and the spiteful voice from the back of his mind was back—not in full force, but clamoring to be heard nonetheless. On their second improvised move, he realized Aziraphale’s intent about a quarter of a beat late—

And then Aziraphale’s hand tightened on his; Crowley stumbled but didn’t fall—

And then—and then, they were back on the beat, 1-2-3-pause, 5-6-7-pause, moving together as if they’d never been off, and Aziraphale was smiling, and their hands moved together in a J that didn’t matter, and Crowley knew to turn, and came back to that glorious smile again—

And then they kept going, moving apart and coming back together without even thinking about it, and they might have made a few more mistakes, missed a beat here and there, but it didn’t matter because every time, they came back together, back to their shared rhythm.

It was as if they had been dancing together for all of their thousands of years—which wasn’t entirely inaccurate, Crowley thought, as they both spun, and he came back again to the warmth of Aziraphale’s hand and the light of his beaming smile. They’d been moving in intricate patterns around each other for millennia, and though they’d had their periods of settling into routines, they’d certainly succeeded at improvising when they had to.

The music moved into its climax, and they even managed a dip, Crowley bending backward and Aziraphale pulling him back upright again, and the angel’s smile was so bright it would surely blind the audience, probably should have blinded Crowley, who didn’t notice until later that his own cheeks were stiff from smiling so broadly. For their final move Aziraphale spun him out to arms’ length, pulled him back in so that they ended practically in each other’s arms as the final notes played.

Aziraphale was flushed and breathless with exertion—and Crowley was in the same state, he realized, but couldn’t pay attention to it. He was too caught up in the way Aziraphale’s pink-cheeked face was lit up with delight, the way Aziraphale’s eyes were fixed on Crowley’s face, traversing it as if memorizing it, darting to his lips—

And then, just like in the dance, Crowley knew exactly what to do and when to do it. He stepped toward Aziraphale at the same moment Aziraphale stepped toward him, and they brought their lips together smoothly, and softly, and then fiercely.

They fit together perfectly, and it was both the most shocking thing that had ever happened to Crowley and also the most natural, as if they’d been kissing throughout their thousands of years—which they definitely had not; Crowley was very clear on that point, no matter how stunned and full of fireworks his mind currently was.

They both knew the moment the kiss was complete, and instead of pulling back, they pulled each other closer, into an embrace; their cheeks were together, and Crowley’s chin was on Aziraphale’s shoulder—

“Angel,” Crowley breathed urgently into Aziraphale’s ear (his lips were beside Aziraphale’s ear), “please tell me that wasn’t because we’re pretending to be married.”

“My dear,” Aziraphale murmured (and for someone’s sake, Aziraphale’s lips were beside his ear), “I’m afraid I was never pretending.”

“Oh good,” Crowley gasped as his knees gave way. Thankfully, Aziraphale supported him sturdily.

“I—I believe we’re being applauded,” said Aziraphale as Crowley got his feet back under him.

“Huh,” said Crowley, insightfully, reluctantly recalling that other people existed besides Aziraphale, and some of them had the nerve to be in the general area at the moment. The first humans who came into focus were George and Ellen, with matching gleaming grins as they waited to escort the next couple onstage after them. One half of that couple was in happy tears, Crowley noted—no, both halves, actually. Crowley worked a quiet miracle that would keep their eye makeup from running (not because he was nice, of course; just because if he didn’t expend some supernatural energy, he’d probably start transforming the spotlights into supernovas or something).

The remaining couples’ routines passed in a blur. Crowley couldn’t exactly miss Ellen and George, who went last, glowing gold as they spun in patterns he couldn’t even make out, but otherwise, he was too preoccupied with the feeling of his hand in Aziraphale’s—not just a polite, pretend-marriage clasp now; Aziraphale had taken full possession of his hand, drawing it over to rest on his leg and intertwining their fingers. Crowley’s head was spinning as much as it had when he’d been caring for Aziraphale’s wings, although in a more satisfying way. He tried letting his head drop onto Aziraphale’s shoulder—was that also a thing they did now? Aziraphale squeezed his hand and pressed his cheek against Crowley’s hair, so it must be. It didn’t stop Crowley’s head from spinning, but that hadn’t been his goal anyway.

George and Ellen finished to energetic applause from everyone except Crowley, who favored them with approximately three desultory claps (Aziraphale, of course, had applauded each couple enthusiastically, reclaiming Crowley’s hand every time), and then it was time for the couples and their audience to head into the practice room for celebratory cocktails. Aziraphale and Crowley had barely made it through the door before George enveloped both of them in a sparkling gold hug that would have been bone-crushing for most humans.

“That was just beautiful, loves,” he enthused. “What would you think about signing up for our advanced class?”

“Oh, that would be lovely,” said Aziraphale, and turned to Crowley, eyebrows raised in a question, but somehow without the accompanying anxiety that had been there for the past seven weeks. “What do you think, my dear?”

“Absolutely,” said Crowley without hesitation.

Aziraphale kissed his cheek. “Oh, good.”

Chapter Text

“So. New things,” said Crowley, slouching against the mirror, but now with Aziraphale next to him (with exceedingly correct posture), holding his hand.

“Well. Yes.” Aziraphale’s cheeks went pink. Well, pinker.

“You meant—all along—did you mean…us?”

Aziraphale looked down, looked back up through his lashes. Crowley’s heart didn’t so much skip a beat as disappear entirely.

“I was hoping, my dear.”

“Mmgnnk.”

“I…rather thought I was being frightfully obvious, I must admit. Dancing lessons—and—and wing grooming—and…well.” He fluttered the hand that wasn’t holding Crowley’s.

“Oh,” said Crowley, astutely. Then—he clapped a hand to his tailcoat’s breast pocket. “Tartan!”

“I beg your pardon, my dear?”

“You had me wear your, your colors, your—”

“My favor, yes,” Aziraphale supplied. His eyebrows went up quizzically. “Did you think I didn’t know what that meant?”

“I…” Crowley waved his free hand. “Ehhhh…”

“I was literally a medieval knight, dear boy.”

“Right,” said Crowley, then frowned, a remembered anxiety managing to surface through the whirling occupying his head. “You…you said you wanted to move to—oh.” He was fairly sure he was openly gaping at Aziraphale. “Did you mean…move away…together?”

Aziraphale’s eyes were round. “But of course I meant together, my dear. Why on earth would I want to move without you?”

“Ngk,” said Crowley, trying to breathe. He didn’t need to, but it seemed important at the moment. (Some part of his mind that wasn’t quite entirely overwhelmed was furiously pointing out that Aziraphale had asked him to move in together and he’d missed it.)

“But, as I said, I was afraid that was a bit farfetched, and I didn’t think you’d want to leave London, so, well—”

Angel,” Crowley groaned, his voice muffled in Aziraphale’s white-tailcoated shoulder as he pulled the angel into another hug. “I asked you to come to Alpha Centauri with me.”

“Ah—yes, I suppose you did.” Aziraphale pressed his cheek against Crowley’s. “But we were rather afraid the world was ending at the time. I wasn’t sure if that…counted.”

“Mmmphmph.”

“Do you—do you still want to go there?”

Crowley closed his eyes, breathed in the smell of his angel. “Don’t care where I live if it’s with you.”

He felt Aziraphale swallow. “Oh.” Aziraphale’s arms tightened around him, then pulled away enough that they could look into each other’s faces. “I feel quite the same.” Aziraphale’s eyes were misty. “Although—” he glanced around, looking mildly befuddled that the room was still full of other people—“I do believe we’ve just committed to six more weeks of dancing lessons, so perhaps we should stay with London for now.”

“Eh,” said Crowley, “uh—sure. Yeah, good plan.” He managed to tear his eyes away from Aziraphale to the rest of the room as well, noting that most of the humans were tactfully ignoring them.

Except—

“Cocktails, loves?” George appeared, as he always did, this time holding drinks for both of them.

“Oh, thank you, my dear,” Aziraphale beamed at him as they each took a glass. Crowley blinked in confusion; that was not Aziraphale’s usual reaction to George.

“Have they surfaced yet?” Ellen emerged from the crowd as well, linking her plump, gold-sequined arm with George’s and shining her smile upon Aziraphale and Crowley. “You can’t keep him hidden away all evening,” she admonished Crowley.

“’Spect I can,” said Crowley, startling himself and causing George to let out a guffaw.

Aziraphale kissed Crowley’s cheek again. “Yes, dear, but let’s do mingle for a bit, if you don’t mind. I’ve very much wanted to meet Myra’s parents, and I do believe Juan’s son is here as well.”

So Crowley let himself be pulled into the crowd for the second time that night, wondering who on earth Myra and Juan were.

Some time later (time wasn’t passing at any sort of normal rate for Crowley, but the large clock above the wall mirrors told him it had been around half an hour), Crowley managed to pull Aziraphale aside after a conversation with Jasmine’s aunt and before he reached the Saitos’ contingent of laughing friends.

“Angel,” he said, the current of desperation in his voice a good bit stronger than he’d planned, “if we don’t go soon, I’m going to kiss you against that wall.”

Aziraphale’s eyes went thoughtfully to the wall, then Crowley’s lips, before meeting his gaze. “Quite right, my dear,” he said, patting Crowley’s hand. “I’m ready to go home as well.”

Crowley did kiss him against the side of the Bentley.

 

“So,” Crowley asked a few minutes later, barreling through Soho, “did you have other…er…new activities in mind? Besides dancing and wing maintenance and moving to the country?”

“Hands on the wheel, dear! And yes, I’d made quite a list. But you mustn’t laugh if I tell you what they were.”

“Believe me, I have no intention of laughing.”

“Pedestrian!”

“What about them? Go on, tell me what your other ideas were.”

“Oh, very well. I’d thought about picnics, of course, and stargazing, and—and cooking classes—Crowley, I want to get home as much as you do, but it won’t do us any good to get discorporated along the way!”

“When have I ever hit anything? And don’t say Anathema. She hit me. Any other ideas?”

“Ah—well—I’d had the idea we might take a long drive, or even a holiday together, or—or visiting one of those places where you can get a, a couple’s massage, or perhaps letting you show me how to work a cellular telephone—eyes on the road, Crowley!”

“Well, you can’t expect me to pay attention to the road when you’re talking about getting a cellphone, angel!”

“Oh, for Heav—goodness’ sake. What about you, my dear? Were there any new things you wanted to try?”

“Eh,” said Crowley, words abruptly failing him. “I—I like all of your ideas.”

“Crowley,” said Aziraphale in a reproachful tone very different from the one he used to critique Crowley’s driving. “It can’t only be what I want. We have to take what you want into consideration as well.”

Crowley swung illegally into a no-parking spot in front of the bookstore. “Yeah,” he said, shifting his shoulders. “’S just…hard to explain.” He reached for Aziraphale’s hand, as he had before the recital, but this time didn’t release it. “Can I—d’you mind if I show you instead?”

“That sounds lovely, dear boy.” Aziraphale kissed Crowley’s hand; Crowley nearly passed out.

 

Behind the closed door of the bookshop, Crowley would have forgone that conversation in favor of more kissing, but Aziraphale stopped him with a gentle hand on his cheek. “You promised, dear. Show me what you want.”

“All right,” said Crowley, holding Aziraphale’s hand tightly and reminding himself that he trusted the angel. “Can you…bring your wings out?”

Aziraphale glanced at the dimensions of the cluttered entryway. “Certainly,” he replied, pulling his wings carefully into this dimension, half-folded to avoid shelves and counters.

Crowley took a moment to appreciate the sight of the white wings over the white tailcoat, then stepped toward him, slid a hand behind Aziraphale’s neck and an arm around his waist, pulling himself into a kiss—and Aziraphale, praise him, comprehended Crowley’s intent, and wrapped both arms and wings around him, securing the two of them in a white-feathered cocoon.

“Is this what you want, dear boy?”

“Mm-hmm,” Crowley said, pulling them even more tightly together. “Only—also with pajamas, and…in bed."

“Oh,” said Aziraphale softly. “Well. I don’t know why we’re still standing down here, then.”

Upstairs, Crowley had a moment of wondering whether Aziraphale even owned pajamas, or if he possibly had a Victorian-era nightshirt and nightcap stashed away somewhere, but by the time Crowley had changed from his tuxedo into his usual black silk nightwear, Aziraphale had unearthed a soft flannel set of his own. Tartan, of course. Crowley, waiting cross-legged on the bed when Aziraphale emerged from the bathroom, couldn’t stop grinning at the sight of him.

“My dear,” Aziraphale said, seating himself neatly a few inches from Crowley, reaching an ever-so-slightly hesitant hand to slide down Crowley’s silk sleeve, “I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to…to”—he broke off, gesturing at Crowley in his pajamas—“Do you have any idea how tempting you’ve been, all these nights?”

Crowley blinked. “Really?” Then, indignantly—“Wait, I’ve been tempting? What—what about you, in your, your”—he wasn’t willing to take his eyes off Aziraphale, so he waved behind him in the direction of Aziraphale’s reading chair—“with your book, and those spectacles, and that lamp, like a painting, and—and—”

Aziraphale’s eyes and mouth were wide—his lips were in that perfect O, surprised and pleased and very kissable, so Crowley kissed them. Aziraphale made a tiny noise, and then his warm, soft arms were around Crowley again, and with a metaphysical tingle his wings unfurled and enveloped Crowley again, and then they tumbled together onto the pillows, tartan flannel and black silk intertwined, like dancing, only more so.

“Took me under your wing,” Crowley mumbled, some time later in a (very brief) break from kissing, wrapped up in soft feathers and soft pajamas and soft angel.

“Oh, hush, you silly serpent.”

“Mmmm. You can make me hush if y’want to. But”—he added before his angel could take him up on that challenge—“tomorrow we’re grooming them again. Not having them all messy.”

“Whatever you say, my dear,” said Aziraphale, though he didn’t let Crowley say much for a while after that.

 

When Crowley woke the next morning, he was at first annoyed to find himself facing the wrong direction, away from Aziraphale.

On second thought, it might be for the best. He was fairly certain that yesterday hadn’t been a dream—he never had dreams that pleasant, for one thing—but either way, he needed a few seconds to prepare himself for the sight of Aziraphale reading in the bedside chair. He’d gotten used to that sight, sort of, over the past few weeks, but now that they were—now that they had—

Anyway, everything felt different now. He took a few more moments; decided he was ready.

He rolled over and got a face full of plush, tartan-clad thigh.

“Mph?”

“Ah, good morning, my dear,” came from somewhere above him.

Crowley extricated his face from Aziraphale’s pajamas enough to look up at him.

“Did you have a pleasant night?” Aziraphale continued, as if it was normal for him to be sitting in bed next to Crowley, in pajamas, the duvet spread neatly over his legs, tiny spectacles perched on his nose, lamplight warmly haloing his hair, one hand holding a book while the other casually brushed strands of hair from Crowley’s forehead—

“Don’t move,” Crowley said urgently, clambering into a sitting position, backing away enough to get a full view of his angel.

“Is everything all right?” Aziraphale asked, concerned.

“’S fine—I just—” Crowley waved his arms—“just want to see you.” His earlier conclusion that he was ready for this sight had been entirely inaccurate, he noted. He could barely breathe over the fullness expanding in his chest.

Aziraphale’s worry melted into a smile. “Well, that’s fair. After all, I’ve been able to see you all night. I do enjoy watching you sleep.”

“Mmnnnggghhh,” Crowley attempted, and had to file that for later reference. “You look—you look—”

“Still like a painting?” Aziraphale asked, shyly.

“A bloody Norman Rockwell,” Crowley croaked.

At that, Aziraphale frowned. “You don’t like Norman Rockwell.”

“I’ve changed my mind.”

“You said he’s sentimental.”

“I like sentimental now. Sentimental’s great.”

Aziraphale’s smile was back, outshining the lamp behind him. “Oh, for goodness’ sake, will you please come here?”

 

After lunch, which arrived via a delivery person who didn’t comment on Crowley’s wearing pajamas to answer the door of a bookshop, they finally got around to wing-grooming.

“I’m going to do it right this time,” Crowley said, surveying Aziraphale’s wings, draped once more across the bed, but no longer feeling surreal as they had the last time.

Aziraphale, resting comfortably on his belly, turned his head to the side to raise his eyebrows at Crowley. “I rather thought you did it quite well last time.”

“I was…uh…afraid of touching you,” Crowley tried to explain. He doubted this made much sense, but Aziraphale gave a nod.

“I suppose I felt the same, my dear.”

Crowley remembered Aziraphale’s shaky breathing and whispered questions last time, and bent down to kiss his cheek.

“All right,” he said, “here goes. And for something’s sake, don’t wait to tell me if anything hurts.”

And he got to work, straightening feathers but also working his hands into the muscle, soothing tendons that probably hadn’t relaxed in centuries.

Ohhh,” said Aziraphale, sounding like a human who’d been hit by a divine revelation. “You’re—you’re right, my dear—oh!—we must do this more often. Ooh! Right there, yes. That feels marvelous.”

“Mmm,” said Crowley, his head spinning again, but delightfully. “Can I say I told you so?”

Aziraphale smiled, and Crowley felt it, vibrating through the white-feathered wings. “Just this once, dear. Ah!—do please do that again first, though.”

Crowley lost track of whether he ever actually said I told you so.

Aziraphale didn’t quite go to sleep by the time Crowley finished with his wings, but Crowley thought he looked closer to it than he’d been in years.

“Is it…still daytime?” Aziraphale mumbled blearily.

Crowley glanced at the still-sunlit window. “Pretty sure it’s just midafternoon,” he said, grinning and adding “put Aziraphale to sleep” to his mental list of “new activity goals” for the near future.

“Good Lord.” Aziraphale paused for a while. Eventually: “Need to do yours now.”

“Ahh, we could…wait until after supper, or—”

“No, don’t be absurd, dear boy,” said Aziraphale, more alertly. He folded his wings and sat up—blinked—swayed—put a hand out to hold himself up. “Oh my.”

“Seriously, angel, we don’t have to—”

“Hush, Crowley; I won’t hear of it.” Aziraphale firmed up his shoulders as much as he could when they were clothed in soft flannel tartan. “Only”—and for the first time since midway through last night’s salsa routine, he looked unsure of himself—“only, I don’t know how—to do it properly, I mean, like you did. I don’t know any…techniques, or…”

“Well, neither do I,” Crowley replied. “Just make it up as I go.”

Aziraphale frowned. “Improvisation,” he sighed.

“But you’re good at that now, remember?” Crowley pointed out, and that earned him a sudden surprised and glowing smile from Aziraphale.

“Well. Yes, I suppose I am. With you.”

“I don’t even know if there are techniques,” Crowley added. “Probably have to ask a…a bird masseuse. Are there bird masseuses?”

“Please just lie down, Crowley.”

It took a few minutes and a few more reassurances for Aziraphale to move past anything more than the most delicate of touches. But once he did, Crowley had plenty of chances to be reminded that the Aziraphale he loved—fussy, soft, kind-hearted, tetchy bookshop-keeper Aziraphale—was also Aziraphale, Guardian of the Eastern Gate—capable of wielding swords and lifting boulders if necessary.

In other words, a massage from him was a Hell of a massage.

A Heaven of a massage?

A really intense massage, anyway.

“Ack!” Crowley said, involuntarily, as Aziraphale’s very solid thumbs drove into some sort of pectoral muscle (Crowley had never bothered with technical anatomy names).

Aziraphale paused. “Am I hurting you, dear?”

“No,” Crowley squeaked. “No, please keep doing that.”

Another beat. “If you say so.”

“I really, really do. Ahhg! I promise—yep, yep, right there—promise I’ll tell you—whew!—if you need to stop.”

Some time later, Aziraphale was sitting beside him, one hand softly on his back and the other gently running through his feathers. Crowley wasn’t certain his wings had any bones or muscles or tendons left—they felt like liquid, barely contained from running off the edge of the bed and pooling on the floor.

“Are you going to fall asleep, dear?” Aziraphale’s voice murmured from somewhere.

“Don’ b’ ridclllous,” Crowley mumbled into the pillow.


 

When he woke, the room was dim, and Aziraphale wasn’t in the chair reading.

“Ah, there you are, my dear.”

Aziraphale was tucked under Crowley’s wing.

“Ngk!”

“Is…this all right, my boy?”

“Mmmphmmhmmm,” Crowley replied firmly, snaking an arm around Aziraphale’s wide waist, in case he got any foolish ideas about moving away.

“All right, then,” said Aziraphale, tracing a line along Crowley’s cheekbone. Crowley’s eyes drifted closed again.

“What…timesss…?”

“I’ve no idea,” said Aziraphale.

Crowley managed to open his eyes enough to peer at him. “You skipped dinner again.”

“Mmm.”

“Do you wanna…somewhere’s probably open—for drinks? Or dessert?”

“Absolutely not.”

And Aziraphale slid a chubby arm around Crowley’s slim waist, and they kissed under the blanket of Crowley’s wing.

 

The next morning, Crowley’s second morning to wake up in bed with Aziraphale, he thought he might be getting used to this, and opened his eyes to the sight of Aziraphale still under his wing.

He was decidedly not used to this yet.

“Good morning, my dear,” said Aziraphale, which he’d said every morning for the past several weeks, but somehow it felt entirely different when said snuggled under Crowley’s wing. “Did you have a pleasant night?”

“Oh, shut up,” said Crowley, pulling him in for a kiss. “Literally the best night I’ve ever had,” he mumbled into Aziraphale’s cheek once he’d finished.

He felt Aziraphale swallow, and pulled back enough to search his eyes. “You know that, right, angel?”

Aziraphale smiled, a serious smile, and ran fingertips through Crowley’s hair. “Let’s just say I’m exceptionally glad to hear you say it, my dear.”

Crowley mentally committed to saying that as often as he could in the future.

“Let’s go to breakfast,” he found himself saying, in the present. “I want to walk around with you in public.”

Now Aziraphale’s mouth quirked into his familiar covert Crowley-is-doing-something-ridiculous smile. “Crowley, you walk around with me in public all the time.”

“You know what I mean,” said Crowley, sitting up and folding away his wings so he could wave his arms. “I want to walk around with you. Like a—a respectable couple.”

Aziraphale’s smile became less covert.

“A respectable couple? That’s terribly un-demonic of you, my dear.”

“I’m retired.”

Aziraphale sat up as well, twinkling. “Well, I shall be happy to walk around with you in public. I’m very much looking forward to all the jealousy I’ll cause with someone so lovely on my arm.”

Angel,” said Crowley. “That’s…that’s not very angelic of you. At all.”

Aziraphale gave him a flattered smile. “Thank you, dear.”

 

Over the next few days, they did manage to emerge from the bookshop several times. Aziraphale even opened the shop occasionally (Crowley used the distraction to tuck a few notes—addressed and signed firmly with both their full names—between books where Aziraphale would find them eventually).

Every now and then, Crowley thought he might one day reach his fill of…of touching, holding hands, kissing, cuddling—

He wasn’t even close.

“Well, we do have 6000 years to make up for,” Aziraphale said, settling a now-well-groomed wing over Crowley in bed one afternoon.

“I s’pose so,” said Crowley, tracing the tartan pattern on Aziraphale’s sleeve. “But you have all those other things you want to do. Don’t want to leave those out.”

“Ah,” said Aziraphale. “I must confess that a good many of those were…to some extent…pretexts, you might say. That is, I hoped they might lead…well, somewhere very like this.”

“Errgghh,” said Crowley, processing. “D’you mean you don’t really want to do them?”

“No, I didn’t say that,” Aziraphale replied. “I do think they’ll be most enjoyable. But…I don’t see any need to rush. Unless you want to, dear.”

“Mmrrrmmehhh,” said Crowley (Aziraphale was running a finger down his jawline). “Next dance class starts Tuesday, yeah? Let’s start there, see how we feel.”

 

The first difference Crowley noticed in the dance class was how genuinely pleased he was to see George and Ellen. He and Aziraphale only rarely needed to be separated for tutorials, these days (that was the second difference), but when they did, Crowley was startled to find the sight of Aziraphale and Ellen dancing to be…endearing. And when George joined him next to the mirrored wall while the others mingled, Crowley was…not displeased to talk to him.

“Glad you two got past whatever it was,” said George after the second lesson (purple and green paisley shirt tonight). Aziraphale had brought Crowley a cocktail, accompanied by a kiss on the cheek, before heading into the crowd.

“Yeah,” said Crowley, not bothering to deny it. “There was…a thing,” he summarized six millennia of secrecy. “‘S better now.” He felt the corners of his mouth twitching into a smile. From the middle of their milling classmates, Aziraphale glanced his direction, spotted him and George together.

The angel’s indulgent smile warmed Crowley from across the room.

 

“So,” Crowley said, taking Aziraphale’s arm as they left some while later into the crisp November night air (well, as crisp as November could get in London). “New things.”

Aziraphale glanced at him, his smile practically audible. “I suppose it hasn’t been too dreadful.”

“No,” said Crowley, hearing his own voice thrum with warmth. “Hasn’t been so bad.”

“Perhaps we can go for a drive tomorrow, dear?”

“Sure, angel. Anywhere you have in mind?”

“Actually, I was hoping you might choose. Anywhere you want to go.”

“Hm,” said Crowley. “All right, I’ll think about it.” He stopped walking; Aziraphale looked at him inquiringly. “There was something else I wanted to try.”

“Yes?” Aziraphale queried. “What was it?”

Crowley kissed him against the nearest wall.


 

One Year Later

Cottage on the South Downs

 

“My dear,” said Aziraphale, polishing off the last bite of homemade apple pie (thanks to cooking classes, they could now cook exactly two dishes), “what would you think about dancing lessons again?”

“Sure, angel,” said Crowley, comfortably settled against his side with a glass of scotch. He tilted his head back enough to kiss Aziraphale just under his ear. “Uh…do you know of any?”

“Well, yes, as a matter of fact.” Aziraphale put his plate aside and wrapped an arm around Crowley’s waist to pull him more securely into his softness. “Young Mr. Garcia at the library mentioned that a new dance studio is opening in that old theater building on Main Street in the village, so I used the Google on the telephone you got me—and I must say, that is terribly convenient.” He patted Crowley’s hand.

“Yes, you’ve said,” Crowley sighed, trying to mask a fond smile. “And it’s just Google, not the Google.”

“If you say so, dear. At any rate, I—ah—may have already signed us up for the first class they’re offering.”

Crowley snorted into his scotch. “I thought we agreed to look at these things together, after the yurt incident.”

“And I still say that no amount of research could have warned us about the chickens. Or the ghost hunters. Besides, I have it on good authority that you’ll like this style of dancing,” Aziraphale said, a touch smugly.

“Oh, do you? And whose authority is that?”

“Yours, my dear,” said Aziraphale, applying a goosebump-raising kiss behind Crowley’s earlobe.

“Errr—huh,” said Crowley. “So, what style is it?”

“Ah…well.” Aziraphale cleared his throat. “It’s disco.”