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two slow dancers last ones out

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The car ride is long and quiet—or, to Aziraphale, it is long and quiet. In reality the ride from the church to the bookshop is ten minutes, but something strange happens to time when love gets involved. It gets all stretched out, and twisted, and generally seems to become a bit of useless putty. If Aziraphale were to be asked what he remembers from the drive, he would say he remembers the heat radiating from the suitcase handle. He would remember the scattered streetlights making a halo glow on Crowley’s profile. He would remember a sickening, sinking feeling, and a wonderful rising one—both of them the same thing.

If Crowley were to be asked, he would surely say that the drive was relatively ordinary, nothing to write home about. But, then again, he’s had better practice at this.

When they do arrive at the bookshop, Aziraphale is too dazed to realize that Crowley has gotten out of the car. He takes in a shaky breath, something catching his lungs, before exiting as well. He holds the suitcase in front of him with both hands. Crowley leans on the car, looking at him.

“Promise me,” drawls Crowley, in a voice thick with derision and sentimentality, “that you won’t go doing something that stupid again.”

Aziraphale chuckles, nods his head to the side. “After tonight, I think I’m through with espionage. It was a good run, though.”

Crowley wrinkles his nose. “Really wasn’t.”

Aziraphale concedes. “No, I suppose not.” He looks over to the front door of the bookshop, then the suitcase, then back to Crowley. Crowley is still looking at him. Aziraphale knows what this means, but he can’t bring himself to think much further on it. “I really can’t thank you enough for the books.”

“Anytime, angel,” Crowley hums. His mouth forms a small smile. Aziraphale’s certain Crowley doesn’t even know it’s on his face.

Aziraphale takes a hand off the suitcase and gestures to the door. “Care for a nightcap?”

The smile grows into a grin. “Would love one.”

Two hours later there are three empty bottles of wine on the table. Books are piling onto the couch from where Crowley drunkenly throws back his arms, all right angles, and elbows the shelves. The floor has sooty footprints. These will all be gone tomorrow, put back to where they came from. Like the night never existed. It’ll take another eighty years for the sooty footprints to find their way back to this place.

But that is then. This is now, and now Aziraphale is drunk and in the process of falling in—well. He’s falling, at any rate.

He hasn’t seen Crowley in nearly a century, and that as well is doing something funny to him. Like picking up a music box from childhood, hearing the song play and remembering the quilt you used to snuggle into every night.

Crowley is staring at one of the books on the couch. He’s picked it up and taken off his glasses to read it better—his eyes squint to read the words. His hair is slicked back with gel, and it looks like brick streets after rain. He looks so lovely, and like he’s done nothing at all. Like the world hasn’t titled seventy-three degrees to the right, like something isn’t wriggling into his nervous system, two more lovesick realizations away from gnawing for his marrow. Like Aziraphale isn’t beginning to realize, very quickly, that he could look at Crowley for ages like this and not come away the slightest bit bored.

“I want to dance,” he says, dumbly. The thought falls out of his mouth before he’s finished thinking it. Crowley looks at him, and as with being intoxicated and in love he finds himself very brave in a way he knows he won’t be in the morning. “Care to join?”

Crowley stares. Without the glasses, Aziraphale watches as his eyes go wide. “What did you have in mind?”

“Oh, perhaps something slow. Too much movement tonight, you understand.” Please tell me you understand. Please don’t ask me any questions. “Perhaps a waltz.”

“Do you even know how to waltz?”

“No. But you could teach it to me.”

Crowley blinks, eyes going half-lidded with alcohol and—and something, which Aziraphale will not name. It becomes real if you name it. It becomes ten times more dangerous, if you give it something to call itself.

“I choose the music,” Crowley says.

Aziraphale smiles. “As you wish, dear.” And he feels like there’s blood in his sternum, and he hopes that he can be very, very brave.

The music that comes off the record does not belong in Aziraphale’s collection, but it’s here anyway. Aziraphale stands in the middle of the compass of the bookshop, truly feeling the power of being in all directions at once. Crowley sets the needle down, and stands there for a bit. Aziraphale watches as he clenches his fists, spreads them wide, then clenches them again. It’s like he’s getting to used to having hands again. Then he turns.

“Right,” he says. He takes in a deep breath, the tension trying to leave his shoulders. “It’s easier if you lead.” He walks to meet Aziraphale, stands, and clears his throat. “If you would.”

He smells like ash. Aziraphale starts. “Hm? Oh. Yes. Um.” He tentatively places a hand on Crowley’s hip and tries to not dig his thumb into the bone there. Crowley rests a hand on his shoulder like he’s touching the flame of God. He grabs Crowley’s hand where it lay slack, and feels the grip tighten as it’s hoisted into the air by a pair of crooked elbows. “What do I do next?”

Crowley is looking at their hands. “Er,” he mumbles. “Truth be told, I don’t actually know how to waltz.”

He looks like it’s a confession. And it is, in a way. But it’s going to fall on deaf ears tonight. It’s going to be like it was never said at all, because Aziraphale is the one who asked him to dance in the first place. Because Aziraphale invited him inside and is trying to keep his grip feather-light but is barely able to do so. Because this is, in essence, a balancing act. Most dances are.

“Well,” says Aziraphale. “We’ll just have to figure it out on our own then.”

The first song on the record has already passed over their heads. The next one floats in, all twinkles and flutes. A smooth voice is crooning out the words. There’s a somebody I’m hoping to see

Aziraphale takes a step forward. Crowley follows. They sway a little bit in the music. He feels his nerves smile on his face, still feels the pull of the compass, seemingly stretched over every direction. And then he looks Crowley dead in the eyes. There’s a look on his face that says It’s been a long night. I’m very tired. It says I’m half-frightened. It says We don’t have to do this now. This can wait a little longer.

The pull snaps. He finds himself in the middle of the room, with Crowley, and he’s—

He is dancing with him. That is all that matters.

He slides his hand from Crowley’s hip and onto the small of his back, bringing them closer in slow, small steps. They’re essentially making a lazy circle. The record hums. I’m a little lamb whose lost in the wood. I know I could, could always be good…

He rests his chin, his lips against Crowley’s shoulder. He still smells like ash, but here’s it less brimstone and church fires and more a warm hearth, in the corner of a house, making something nice for the evening. Perhaps a pot of tea.

Aziraphale looks out at the world with frightened eyes. The gold glow of the bookshop lights floods the room with warmth. He feels like he’s too small the carry all of this, the aching. The great expanse pushing at his ribs. The suitcase lies next to the gramophone. Tomorrow, the books will be in their proper place, but the case will find itself tucked away in the flat upstairs. Over the years it will hold many more things—no books, but restaurant receipts. Lost scarves. Photographs.

He feels Crowley rest his cheek against the top of his head, feels his hand move from his shoulder to the nape of his neck. There’s a sigh, and Aziraphale closes his eyes.

The basic elements of dancing are very simple when you get down to it: bodies, some music, and motion. The music and the motion are all subject to change. This we know well.

The deep voice sings further. Although I may not be the man some girls think of as handsome, to her heart I’ll carry the key.

But the bodies. The number of bodies usually stays the same. They are always two.

Tomorrow they will not speak about this. They will pretend they forgot. There’s too much of the world ending right now. But they will remember it and remember it again and again and again. The heavy blanket of dusty air. The fingers digging in. The swaying, side to side. Not saying a word. Perhaps this is the real thank you. Perhaps this is something they will discuss, eighty years down the road. Perhaps it will be something they repeat.

Won’t you tell her please to put on some speed? Follow my lead, oh, how I need…

But that is then. Let’s focus on now: two bodies, in the middle of a bookshop. They are swaying in half-darkness, staying firmly in the middle of the compass. They know the song will end, but that isn’t the point.

…someone to watch over me.

The point is this: it’s one song. There’s a whole record to dance through. And in between the notes Aziraphale can think, very dangerously, that this feeling feels a little bit like love.