"You're staring," Crowley says. He doesn't hide his pleased smile, though.
Aziraphale smiles. His eyes dart downward. He fidgets with the cloth napkin in his lap. "I was just reminiscing. Your dress reminds me of one you wore in 1953."
"You can look. I didn't mean to stop you."
Aziraphale looks up again. He lets his gaze sweep across Crowley's neck, his collarbones, his shoulders.
"Sometimes I forget I don't have to look away anymore," Aziraphale says softly.
Crowley reaches his hand across the restaurant table. "I know."
Aziraphale takes his hand, and leans forward to press a kiss to his knuckles. He holds Crowley's gaze. The amber warmth of Crowley's eyes doesn't stand out in this restaurant like it usually does, amidst the soft glow of candles and dim lights. But Aziraphale is still struck, captivated. He lingers, and savors the pleasure of being able to do so.
Crowley breaks the silence. "I think I remember. We were at a cocktail party? You were helping me with some political temptation or other."
"What did you think of my dress then?"
"I thought it suited you. You looked positively gorgeous."
Aziraphale hears the heaviness in Crowley's voice, how he slips so effortlessly into the stance of a temptation. Aziraphale yields to it, because he can.
"Well, I believe I stopped those thoughts right there, because I knew where they would've gone."
"Oh? Where would that be?" Crowley breathes.
"I probably would've spent the evening imagining laying you on top of the grand piano and reaching under the hem of your dress…" Aziraphale reaches his hand under the table and lets his fingers graze the skin above Crowley's knee. Crowley takes a shaky breath. "And I would've wanted to--"
"Hi! Did you have a chance to consider the dessert selection?"
Aziraphale pulls his hand back. Crowley reaches for his sunglasses. Aziraphale watches him forcibly inhabit his persona again, pushing away his playful, mildly aroused expression. He becomes detached, collected, and cool--a person simultaneously so familiar to Aziraphale, and yet not the demon he really knows.
"Just a whiskey for me. Angel?"
"The same, and we'll share the chocolate cake, please," Aziraphale says.
"Oh, are you two out for a special occasion this evening? Birthday, anniversary...?"
"Ah. Well. We don't really have… that is… we're just... celebrating each other, I suppose."
Aziraphale knows Crowley is rolling his eyes under his glasses, but he's also smiling. "You absolute sap," Crowley mutters.
"No candle for the cake then? You seem like a lovely couple. How long have you been together?" the waiter asks.
"Oh," Aziraphale says. "Forever."
The waiter smiles. "I'll be right back with your drinks."
Aziraphale looks back at Crowley. He waits for him to lower his sunglasses again and ask more about the piano and the dress and...
Crowley doesn't. When his whiskey arrives, he just sips it and doesn't look at him. Aziraphale eats the cake alone.
The drive back to the cottage is tense and quiet. Crowley accelerates even more forcefully than usual. Aziraphale rests his hand on the seat between them, but Crowley doesn't take it; he's been white-knuckling the steering wheel since they pulled out of the restaurant parking lot.
Aziraphale has been trying to figure out what to say for the last twenty minutes, but after all that truly expert fretting, the only thing he has come up with is, "Are you all right, love?"
Crowley doesn't respond.
"Are you hurt? Have I done something wrong?"
"It's nothing, angel."
"Clearly not! Why won't you tell me what's troubling you?"
When they arrive home, Crowley kicks off his heels and stumbles down the hallway. "I'm going to bed."
"...would you like me to join you?"
"Don't care," Crowley says as he walks away.
"Crowley!" Aziraphale yells after him. He follows him to their bedroom. Crowley has already flopped down in bed, laying on top of the blanket, still wearing his cocktail dress.
"Crowley. Things are different. We're… ah… partners now. You don't get to just run off and sleep for ages when you're upset with me. Certainly not in our own home! Please, talk to me."
"Yeah. Right. You're sure things are different now?" Crowley says into the pillow.
But Crowley doesn't respond. Aziraphale takes a deep, steadying breath. He returns to the entryway. He hangs his coat and carefully unlaces his boots. He puts the kettle on, and listens to the water stirring as it heats.
He reflects on the age of their friendship, the enormity of the time they've shared together. He remembers all their little disagreements, about the terms of the Arrangement, or what to do when they got lost traveling. He remembers all the times they weren't on the same page about the risk they could afford. He feels, again, the sharp pain in his gut he felt every time he pushed Crowley away, even when it was with their safety in mind. He remembers decades, entire centuries even, when he knew Crowley was hiding from him. He remembers the big ones: the handful of times when he thought he would lose Crowley forever, when he thought Crowley wanted to die, when he thought the chasm between their sides was too wide to ever bridge and that they were foolish for having tried. Aziraphale takes another breath. He tries to imagine their love, their friendship, their history like the tides of the sea. He pictures himself leaning back into the water and letting tonight's wave carry him out, and then bring him back to shore. His head dips below the surface and he reminds himself that he doesn't need to breathe.
By the time the kettle whistles, Aziraphale feels calmer. He decides to make two cups.
"Crowley, dear?" Aziraphale says as he returns to the bedroom. Crowley is exactly how he left him. "I brought you some tea." He sets it on the nightstand. "I'm going to sit here and read, but I'm here if you want to talk."
A moment passes. "You're really gonna let me interrupt your reading?"
Aziraphale smiles. "Yes. Special offer, one night only."
He settles into the armchair with his book and tea. After a few minutes, Crowley turns to his side to look at him.
"It hurt when you said we've been together forever."
"Oh." Aziraphale puts down his book. "I'm s--"
"Don't," Crowley barks.
"Okay," Aziraphale says. "Can you tell me more about why it hurts?"
"I don't know," Crowley says. "It just… it's not true, is it? I wanted us to be together, felt like I wanted it forever, but we weren't, couldn't, and…"
"Well, I can't have said we've been together eighteen months," Aziraphale says. "That's not really the truth either."
They share a moment of silence.
"No one else will ever understand us," Crowley says.
"Probably not, no," Aziraphale agrees.
"Does that ever make you feel lonely?"
Aziraphale pauses to gather his words. "No more now than it did before," he says. "I've not felt truly alone since we first met. We've always been the only ones. You've always understood what's most important, when no one else did. You've always known what we mean to each other, even when I couldn't say it."
Crowley is silent.
"That's what I meant when I said we've been together forever," Aziraphale continues. "But I see how that hurts. I'm sorry. You can be angry."
"Don't want to be."
"But you are."
Crowley looks away.
"Can I sit next to you?" Aziraphale says after a moment.
Crowley nods. Aziraphale climbs in bed and takes his hand.
"What do you want?" Aziraphale asks. "Is there something I can do that would help you feel better?"
"I'm still wearing this dress," Crowley says quietly. "You should hold me down and fuck me like you wanted to in '53."
"Oh, love," Aziraphale says. "Love. I want you. But I don't really want to make love to you while you're feeling hurt."
"I'd feel better."
"I know. Maybe someday I'll feel like I can do that."
They share a moment of silence.
"There's something else I always wanted to do, whenever you were hurting. Whenever I hurt you," Aziraphale says.
"Do you trust me?" Aziraphale asks.
"Yeah. 'Course I do."
"Roll on your other side."
He turns to face away from Aziraphale. Aziraphale leans over him and cards his fingers through his hair. He pulls a stray lock off his face, and tucks it behind his ear. Aziraphale rubs his scalp a bit, and Crowley presses into his touch. He gathers his hair into a loose braid, and tucks it to the side. He presses a kiss into the back of his neck as he lays down next to Crowley. Aziraphale reaches an arm around his side and presses it into Crowley's chest, near his heart. He breathes the scent of Crowley's skin: soft, with hints of cedar. The familiar, calming smell blends with the bergamot from Crowley's untouched tea on the nightstand (miraculously, still steaming). Aziraphale feels incredibly grateful to exist in this moment.
"I always wanted to just hold you like this. Show you I'm with you."
Crowley slowly settles into Aziraphale's arms, soft and pliant. His eyes close.
"Will you sleep?" Aziraphale asks.
"Don't you want to change into your pajamas?"
"Nah. You owe me a historical revision fantasy tomorrow morning."
Aziraphale breathes into his ear. "I look forward to it."
He lifts his fingers from Crowley's chest to snap softly, and the light flicks off.