Aziraphale looked around at the gym with trepidation. He’d never been to a gym before, never in his forty-two years, but his doctor had been gently encouraging him to join one for the last several years, at every physical. His cholesterol and A1C were a bit high, on the borderline, but Aziraphale was never too concerned about his doctor’s words, and had never taken any real action to better himself. And he would have kept ignoring the advice, except last week, at his favorite restaurant, he’d heard the loud but ominous crack of wood when he sat down in one of the spindly chairs. Guiseppe, the proprietor of the restaurant, had done everything he could to assure Aziraphale that the chairs were old and frail and it was not his fault, but Aziraphale had been humiliated nonetheless. He’d vowed not to go back to Guiseppe’s - or any other restaurant - until he was more certain that he wouldn’t be embarrassing himself in such a way again. It was time to make some major life changes, to turn over a new leaf, and Aziraphale was ready.
But as he stood in the lobby of the sprawling gym, the nicest and highest rated in town, he was questioning this decision. ‘What does it matter if you’re portly?’ his brain whispered to him. He was just a bookseller, and he was comfortable with that. He didn’t need to be an adonis. He was stocky and strong, a result of lifting boxes of books all day. Surely that would be enough exercise for him? He should just go home.
No, he admonished himself sternly. This wasn’t about his looks, this was about his health. If he didn’t make some changes, he might find his health declining more and more, or worse, he might find himself dead before his time. Aziraphale wasn’t nearly ready to be done with this life, so joining this gym and making some other lifestyle changes was the way to go. He squared his shoulders resolutely and marched to the front desk.
The pretty, perky woman behind the counter smiled brightly at him. “Hi! Welcome to Celestial Fitness. How can I help you?”
“I need to join your gym, please.”
“Excellent! Let me tell you about our membership packages…”
For the next fifteen minutes, the young lady - named Britney - detailed the types of membership and the monthly dues for each. Aziraphale asked a few questions, but mostly just listened and nodded his understanding.
“I think I’d like the premium membership, please,” he said when she was done. “I’m very much new to the world of fitness and will likely need the assistance of a personal trainer, or perhaps a class or two. And use of the massage tables and sauna sound heavenly.”
“No problem!” Britney chirped, pulling out some paperwork for Aziraphale to fill out. He took the clipboard quickly before he lost his nerve.
Once he’d filled out all the information, he handed the clipboard back to Britney. “Here you go, dear.”
She smiled as she took it, then took a minute while he waited for her to fill in his information on the computer. Aziraphale was patient, but growing nervous again in the silence. Finally, she pulled a key fob out of the drawer, scanned it, then handed it over to Aziraphale with a smile. “Here you are, Mr. Fell. You’re good to go. Would you like a tour of the facility?”
“Please,” he said gratefully, then he paused. “Also, I’m wondering… when is your least busy time of day?”
“The least busy?”
“Yes. What time of day is traffic in your gym the lightest?”
“Oh, that’s easy. Late in the evening is our lightest time. We have some people who come by after work, but they don’t stay very long, and it’s usually a ghost town after about six thirty.”
Aziraphale smiled. “Perfect. That’s just perfect.” He closed the shop every day at six, so it would be ideal for him to come by after work when there were very few people here. That way, there would be fewer people to look at him and judge him for being so out of shape.
“Are you ready for your tour?”
He nodded with a smile. “Lead the way, dear.”
He ducked into the men’s locker room and was pleased to find it as deserted as the gym floor. The lingering smell of soap hung in the air - not the acrid smell of sweaty socks - and it wasn’t nearly as unpleasant as he’d feared it would be. He changed quickly out of his usual, formal clothes into the t-shirt and shorts he’d purchased. He felt silly, dressed this way, but knew that working out in a waistcoat and shirtsleeves wasn’t advisable. It would be downright ridiculous, in fact. So he laced up his new trainers, grabbed his water bottle, his mobile, and his earbuds, and made his way out to the gym floor.
There were even fewer people out there now, amongst the hundreds of machines, and Aziraphale was pleased to have the place nearly to himself. But despite the tour he’d had, he had no idea what most of the machines did. He wasn’t sure where to start and was feeling a little overwhelmed when he spotted the row of treadmills. That would work to start out with. A little light walking on his first day. Jolly good.
He selected a treadmill at the end of the row and got on, squinting at the buttons on the control panel, trying to sort out what they did. He pressed one that looked promising - ‘quick start’ - and the machine lurched to life. Aziraphale felt rather pleased with himself for figuring it out and gave a little self-satisfied smile. He put his earbuds in and used his mobile to select an audiobook to listen to, then raised the speed on the treadmill until he was walking briskly.
He’d been walking less than five minutes when he noticed the red-haired man on one of the machines in front of him. The man was exercising his arms, which wasn’t so unusual, but he was wearing sunglasses indoors, which Aziraphale found odd. Still, Aziraphale watched him as he used the machine, his muscles rippling as he worked, and appreciated the effect. The man was really quite beautiful, downright sexy, even, and Aziraphale couldn’t help but stare.
Then the man finished his workout on the machine, got to his feet, and looked directly at Aziraphale. His heart slammed in his chest and he looked away quickly, hoping he hadn’t been caught. Oh, how embarrassing! The gym probably had regulations against members ogling each other. At the least, it was very bad etiquette. Even a novice like Aziraphale knew that.
He didn’t dare look up to see where the man had gone. He just finished his workout - a mile and a quarter walk at a brisk pace - and retreated to the locker room to shower and redress in his usual clothes.
Everyone he encountered at the gym was extremely nice, too, he noticed. All the staff had been friendly and supportive, and when he’d finally worked up the nerve to make an appointment with a personal trainer during his second week, that person had also been exceptionally helpful and kind. They’d shown him which machines to use and how to use them, and Aziraphale felt more capable after they’d finished. He was becoming a proper regular at the gym, and the few faces that were there at the same time as him were becoming familiar. But the most familiar face, the one he noticed most of all, belonged to the red-haired man in sunglasses.
They had never spoken: in fact, the most they’d done was acknowledge each other with a little nod. But Aziraphale couldn’t shake the feeling that the red-haired man was watching him sometimes while he was working out. He couldn’t explain why he felt that way - there was no evidence to support his suspicion - but Aziraphale was sure of it. He felt eyes on him as he exercised.
He tried telling himself that he was being ridiculous, that it was all in his head. The red-haired man was gorgeous. Why would he be staring at the likes of Aziraphale? Unless… oh, unless it was disgust or pity making him look. What if the red-haired man kept staring at Aziraphale for the same reason people looked at shows like Jeremy Kyle? What if he was repulsed, but mesmerised by his disgust and couldn’t look away? The very thought was heartbreaking, and Aziraphale had to fight tears when it occurred to him.
Then he chastised himself for being overdramatic. It was impossible to tell who or what the red-haired man was looking at with those dark glasses on. Besides, Aziraphale had never turned a single head in his life, not really. He’d had relationships before, of course, but nearly all of them had grown out of platonic acquaintances and had mostly been casual - at least on the part of his partners. He was the classic example of nondescript, just an average man. There was nothing special or remarkable about him, nothing at all. He doubted very seriously he would be turning anyone’s head now, as a portly fortysomething.
Still, the red-haired man was at the gym nearly every day Aziraphale was, and he was usually fairly nearby as Aziraphale made his circuit of the machines. Aziraphale even heard him grunt sometimes, or groan, or blow out a large breath. The sounds seemed exaggerated, even lustful, like the sounds one made when eyeing someone very appreciatively, but he tried not to pay them any mind. That couldn’t be the case. Wishful thinking on his part. People grunted and breathed heavily while they were working out. It was fine.
But guiltily, Aziraphale took every opportunity he could to watch the red-haired man while he exercised. His body was beautiful - long, lean lines and wiry strength, and Aziraphale found himself deeply attracted to him, even though they’d never spoken, and even though part of him still worried that the man was repulsed by him. Aziraphale would toil away on the elliptical or the stair climber and watch the red-haired man covertly, letting himself get lost in a little fantasy about what that lean body would feel like under his hands. And sometimes, when he was on the rowing machine or the leg press, he’d swear he could feel the red-haired man’s eyes on him.
But he said nothing. He just did his workout, enjoyed the view, and took the memory of the sexy, red-haired man home with him, to help fill his lonely nights.
His routine that evening wasn’t really different from usual. He was pushing himself a little harder every day, becoming more sure of himself on the machines, gaining strength and confidence, building up his endurance and stamina. The red-haired man was there, of course, and Aziraphale let himself enjoy more than a few guilty, lingering glances. When his workout was done, he made his way to the locker room and stripped off his gym clothes, wrapping a towel around his waist and going to the door marked ‘men’s sauna’.
The steamy air of the sauna hit him like a wet blanket to the face as soon as he opened the door, the heat nearly overwhelming. He felt sweat beads pop up all over his face at once, but wasn’t that the point? It was certainly different, so he’d give it a try. He made his way over to the wooden bench on the far wall of the small, dimly lit room and had a seat, taking a deep breath of the steamy air and letting his head rock back to lean against the wall.
His mind was relaxing along with his muscles and he was just thinking that he’d have to make a habit of this when the door opened. Aziraphale raised his head to see who had come in and felt a jolt all through his body when he spotted the red-haired man stepping inside the sauna. His sunglasses were gone and he was wearing nothing but a towel slung low around his waist, his chest bare, and heavens above, he was even sexier than Aziraphale had thought. He was all lean muscle, with the suggestion of abdominal muscles and - Aziraphale gulped - v-dents at his hips. There was a smattering of dark red hair across his chest and forming a trail from his navel down until it disappeared into the towel, and Aziraphale nearly salivated.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the red-haired man said. “I had no idea anyone would be in here. It’s usually deserted. I’ll leave you be.”
“No!” Aziraphale fairly shouted, raising his arm to stop him instinctively, then flushed to the roots of his hair and modulated his voice. “I mean, no, you don’t have to go.”
The red-haired man gave a little grin that sent butterflies rioting through Aziraphale’s belly. “You sure?”
He nodded. “Absolutely. There’s plenty of room for both of us.”
“If you insist,” the man said, then entered the room fully and crossed to Aziraphale, his hand extended. “My name’s Crowley.”
“Crowley,” he repeated. Now the red haired man had a name - and Aziraphale could see his eyes. Oh, they were beautiful, a warm brown, almost a topaz. He could get lost in those eyes.
Aziraphale smiled and took the offered hand, trying not to think about the thrill that ran all through his body at the touch. “I’m Aziraphale. It’s a great pleasure to meet you.”
“The pleasure’s all mine,” Crowley said with a lopsided smile that did things to Aziraphale’s insides. He was unable to stop himself from watching, rapt, as Crowley had a seat nearby.
“I’ve seen you around, of course,” Crowley was saying as he sprawled on the bench with an easy grace. “You’ve been coming to the gym for a few weeks now. Is that right?”
“Yes, I started a little under two months ago.”
“How do you like it here?”
“Oh, it’s very nice. Everyone I’ve met has been terribly friendly, and very supportive. Of course, I’ve never been to any other gym…”
Crowley raised a ginger eyebrow. “You’ve never been to a gym before?”
Aziraphale was suddenly very conscious of his body and wanted to hide. “No, I’m afraid not. I’ve been quite remiss in taking care of my body, as I’m sure you can see.”
He was treated to a raking glance from head to toe and back up that made his heart trill in his chest. Crowley looked… appreciative.
“I think your body looks fantastic the way it is,” he said.
Aziraphale could have fainted. Was that flirting? It seemed like flirting, but he was so terribly out of practice. Perhaps Crowley was just being polite. That was the most likely scenario.
He decided to change the subject back to safer territory. “How long have you been coming here?”
Crowley accepted the shift in topic with a smile. “A couple of years. It’s nice, I like it.”
Aziraphale hummed an acknowledgement but didn’t know what to say in response. He very much wanted to keep talking to this gorgeous man, but small talk had never been his forte. He tried to think of something to say, but nothing was springing to mind. Honestly, it was taking nearly all of his concentration not to stare at Crowley like a besotted fool. His golden skin glistened with sweat, and Aziraphale wanted to draw patterns over him with his tongue.
Stop it, he admonished himself sternly, turning his head to the side and closing his eyes. Crowley was simply enjoying the sauna - that was not an invitation to ogle him!
“I was surprised to see you in here,” Crowley was saying. “I’ve always gotten the impression that you were the type to do your workout and leave soon after.”
“I usually have been. This is my first time visiting the sauna after my workout.”
“Well, what do you think?”
“It’s very relaxing,” Aziraphale answered. And that was true, despite the fact that he felt like a ball of nerves and sweat at the moment. It had been relaxing until his secret crush had walked in.
“Like I said, there’s usually not anybody in here,” Crowley said. “In fact, I’ve never seen anyone in here before. I usually have the place to myself.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to have --”
“No! No,” Crowley interrupted. “I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been aiming to speak to you for weeks.”
Aziraphale’s eyes went wide with surprise. “You have?”
He couldn’t be sure, but he rather thought Crowley looked a little sheepish. “I have. Been looking for an excuse to come talk to you, introduce myself. Maybe offer to work out together.”
Aziraphale was utterly shocked. “You want to work out together?”
Crowley gave a little shrug, not meeting Aziraphale’s eyes. “Sure, if you want.”
“But… you’re much more advanced than I am. I’d just slow you down. Hold you back.”
“Nah. It could be fun. What do you say?”
Aziraphale’s head was spinning. What on earth should he say or do? The opportunity to spend time with Crowley was very appealing. He’d be able to look at him working out with near impunity. But should he?
Temptation won out over good sense. “If you’re sure I won’t hold you back, then I’d love to.”
Crowley’s face broke into a wide, pleased smile, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Tomorrow, then? Six thirty?”
“I’ll be here,” Aziraphale agreed, a little dizzy with the implications.
“It’s a date,” Crowley declared, his whole face lit up, and oh, goodness, did his face look like that because of Aziraphale? The mind boggled.
“It’s a date,” he repeated, overjoyed.