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the waltz

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After spending over six thousand years answering to their Head Offices, eleven years desperately trying to avoid the apocalypse, and a few stressful hours tricking Heaven and Hell using a scheme that had as high a chance getting them both painfully killed as it did working, it was strange to suddenly have nothing to worry about.

Crowley imagined it was a bit like retiring from a long and stressful job to be greeted by nothing but long afternoons spent reading books and strolling through the park, peaceful with the potential of being catastrophically boring. Crowley would be turning himself in circles if not for the angel by his side.

It had been two weeks since they had woken up to find the world right where it was, and Crowley was lounging in the bookshop thumbing through a glossy magazine that had Aziraphale throwing him dark looks from his spot in the armchair across from Crowley. Aziraphale didn’t believe in reading anything glossy and colorful, especially if the cover had more than one exclamation point. This particular magazine had three. Just bringing it into the bookshop was a crime.

Crowley had purchased it because it advertised a list of fun things to do in London, and he had been slowly realizing that he didn’t know what to do with himself without the apocalypse looming over his head. With Aziraphale by his side, he was willing to try new things if it meant staving off the threatening boredom.

“A knitting class?” Crowley asked.

Aziraphale sniffed. “I know how to knit, thank you.”

Crowley looked at him over the top of his glasses. “You do?”

“Yes!”

“You’ve never offered to knit anything for me,” he said, and he stuck out his lower lip just so.

Aziraphale’s face scrunched in the way it always did when Crowley laid it on a bit too thick, and recently, Crowley had been noticing more and more of these expressions slipping through.  

“I never offered because I never thought you’d take me up on it. You’ve never shared my sense of style.”

Crowley hummed and turned back to the magazine. “Yes, well. You never mentioned hand-knit clothing.” He read the next number on the list. “Old church tours? Ugh.”

Aziraphale grimaced. “That’s a no from me too. Might burn my feet just as much as yours at this point.”

“We already go to the park,” Crowley grumbled as he read the next point on the list. “Bikes? Really? That’s nearly as hard on the buttocks as a horse is.”

“My dear, perhaps we could continue trying to find pastimes by ourselves instead of using that horrid—”

“What about dancing?”

When Crowley looked up, Aziraphale had a baffled expression on his face. “Dancing? What kind of dancing?”

Crowley squinted at the text. “Ballroom dancing. ‘This beginner’s lesson will teach you how to do a simple waltz that is invaluable for any fancy party.’ Since neither of us has done it before, seems to me it could be fun.” He frowned and looked up at the angel. “I’m assuming you haven’t done it before.”

“No, I—” Aziraphale looked a bit uncomfortable. “Never ballroom dancing.”

Crowley smiled. “Good. It’s settled. Ballroom dancing on Sunday.”

 

The dance class was being held in the local arts center, and as Crowley and Aziraphale neared the dance studio at the back of the large, modern building, Crowley noticed that most of the other attendees were romantic couples, if the handholding and general lack of space between them were anything to go by. There were at least seven other couples loitering outside the studio doors, waiting for the instructor to invite them in.

Crowley wondered if Aziraphale noticed. He shot Aziraphale a sideways glance, and the angel showed no sign of picking up what was making Crowley want to turn on his heel and leave. Changing his mind about the dance class now would only make Aziraphale suspicious, and that would be even worse.

The doors to the studio opened, and a cheerful human man in his late forties greeted them. “Welcome! Please come in.”

The couples shuffled inside, chattering happily as they went. The instructor had a woman with him, who Crowley assumed was another instructor. She was also in her late forties, and was currently sitting on the floor adjusting her ballroom shoes.

“Hello everyone, and welcome to ballroom dancing for beginners. I’m Paul and this is my dance partner, Gerri.”

The woman on the floor gave a friendly wave as she rose to her feet.

The two went through a short introduction of the history of ballroom dancing and the social situations you might get into where a waltz was necessary. Crowley wasn’t giving them his full attention. The angel raptly soaking in what they had to say was far more interesting to Crowley, with his bright eyes and his small excited smile.

“I want you to face your partner and choose who is going to be the lead and who is going to be the follow.”

Aziraphale turned to him with a prim expression. “Of the two of us, I am the one who’s danced before, so I think I should lead.”

Crowley frowned. “I’ve done plenty of dancing!” He paused. “Since when have you danced?”

“I was very good at the gavotte back when it was popular, thank you kindly.”

“The gavotte?”

“It may not be ballroom dancing, but unlike disco, it requires you to coordinate with the other dancers.”

Crowley shrugged. “If you want to lead that badly, be my guest.” He squinted up at the instructors, who were still explaining the dancing positions and mirrored the way the woman was holding herself.

A self-satisfied smile settled on Aziraphale’s face, and he took the lead position. Crowley was not prepared for the warmth of Aziraphale’s hand in his, and he hoped that the shock of it wasn’t showing on his face. Aziraphale was smiling fondly at him, and it was all a bit much.

While the instructors were explaining the first step of the waltz, Crowley was having a difficult time focusing. Aziraphale’s gaze was turned towards them, and he was obviously listening carefully, but all Crowley could do was watch Aziraphale’s profile and wonder how he was going to drag himself out of this one. He was a fool for suggesting this class.

Aziraphale turned back to him and Crowley wrestled his face back into a normal expression. There was slow waltz music playing over the speakers now.

“I’ll count us off, okay?” Aziraphale said. “A-one-two-three, two-two-three, three-two-three, go.”

“Wait, what?” Crowley asked, right as Aziraphale stepped forward directly onto his foot. “Oi!”

Aziraphale stepped back and huffed. “Really, Crowley, were you not paying attention at all?”

“You didn’t give me fair enough warning! Try again.”

Aziraphale gave him a look that Crowley could only describe as exasperated, but he counted them off again, and this time they were able to manage three waltz steps before Crowley lost his rhythm and Aziraphale tried tugging him back in step before treading on his foot. Again.

“I may not have been put on Earth with feet, angel, but getting them stomped on still hurts.”

“I’m not the one missing the steps, dear.”

They stopped their bickering as the instructors explained a bit more about how to properly lead and follow, and then told them to keep practicing the simple step.

Crowley felt he was too… noodle-y for this sort of thing, and Aziraphale held himself stiffly, with an end result of them likely looking like a pair of fools.

“Can I offer some advice?” came a voice, and Crowley looked sideways to see the female dance instructor smiling kindly at the two of them.

“Of course!” Aziraphale responded before Crowley could reply with something snippy.

“You need to stop worrying about your own body carriage and think about yourselves as a pair,” she said. “You two have obviously known each other for a long time, and when you’ve attuned yourselves to each other in so many different ways, sometimes it’s hard to adjust that to dancing.” She turned to Crowley. “As a follow, your job is to listen to what your lead is telling you.” She then looked at Aziraphale. “And as a lead, you must communicate you’re next steps to him effectively. Dancing is all about communication. Don't get too stuck up in your own heads.”

She wandered off to the next couple and Aziraphale raised his eyebrows. “Care to try again?”

This time was less disastrous, if still very awkward, and they managed to keep the simple step up without either of them treading on each other’s toes or the dance falling apart. Crowley was paying more attention to the pressure Aziraphale was placing on his shoulder blade, and though it helped him predict where Aziraphale wanted them to go, it was distracting in its own right. Aziraphale’s gaze on his face was also distracting. His expression was focused, and Crowley desperately hoped that his own expression wasn’t showing how much this affected him.

The instructors called everyone to a halt a few minutes later. The man clapped his hands together and smiled. “Now that you all seem to have a decent grasp of the basic waltz step, we’re going to teach you the basic full box step, as well as some moves to spice up your waltz.”

“Oh dear,” Aziraphale mumbled.

Crowley had to agree with that assessment.

The box step was easy enough, but when they got to the turns, they had a bit more difficulty.

“Crowley, you can’t just go all limp. I can’t lead you when you’re all limp.”

“You should have thought of that before you decided to dance with a serpent, angel.”

This time, Aziraphale was the one to get his toe trodden on. The look he gave Crowley was disappointed. Crowley couldn’t help it—he started laughing. It was all incredibly outrageous. Here they were, a pair of supernatural entities who had been on Earth since it’s very Creation, trying to learn a human dance because they were bored and unemployed, getting frustrated with one another because they kept stepping on each other’s toes. 

Aziraphale gave him a bewildered look. “What’s so funny?”

This is funny, angel. The fact that we’re in here taking dance lessons and not doing very well. Getting annoyed because we aren’t doing well.”

Aziraphale stared at him a moment longer before the corner of his mouth tilted upwards. “I suppose it is rather silly of us.”

“Do you want to keep at it or would you rather go do something more enjoyable?”

Aziraphale frowned. “We should finish the lesson, at least.”

The tension had drained from them, and suddenly their mistakes weren’t failures, but something they both laughed at. The dance lesson became much more enjoyable. And soon, there was no more treading on feet, the simple steps were coming more naturally, and Crowley realized that he might actually like the waltz. Aziraphale was smiling at him, his hand was soft in Crowley’s, and Crowley was quite a bit in love with him.

Just as Crowley was beginning to lose himself in the feeling of dancing with Aziraphale, the music slowed to a stop.

“That concludes our lesson for today!” the male instructor said. “Gerri and I run an intermediate dance class that will be meeting here next month. I hope to see some of you there. Thank you all for being a wonderful class. Go out and use your new ballroom dancing ability to wow your acquaintances.”

Aziraphale dropped his arms to his sides, and Crowley felt the loss acutely. The charm was broken, and now the excuse to touch Aziraphale was gone.

“Thank you for suggesting this, Crowley. It was very fun,” Aziraphale said. “Shall we?” He gestured to the door of the dance studio.

Crowley led them out and onto the street. “How does that compare to the gavotte, then?” Crowley asked as they climbed into the Bentley.

“Well, it’s more personal, which I find enjoyable,” Aziraphale began thoughtfully. “The gavotte was very lively, and I had a wonderful group with which to dance it, but I must say, my dear, that dancing with you is preferable.”

Crowley felt his face heat. He tried to play it cool. “You just like that I keep dancing with you even after you trod on my toes.”

“That was one part of it, certainly."

When they made it back to the bookshop, the sun had set and had turned the warm summer day into a cool evening, the kind of evening that made you realize that summer was ending and fall was right around the corner.

“Come have a nightcap?” Aziraphale asked.

Crowley double-parked the Bentley and followed him inside. He leaned against a bookshelf as Aziraphale uncorked a wine bottle and filled both their glasses. He turned and handed a glass to Crowley.

“Would you be interested in going to the intermediate lesson next month?” he asked, and Crowley could hear a strange thread of nervousness in his voice.

“Would you?” Crowley replied.

Aziraphale stared down into his glass, swirling the red liquid gently. “I don’t know. I don’t think I want to learn anything more complicated but…” He trailed off.

“We can think on it. See how we feel later,” Crowley said, and he took a seat on the couch and took a large swig of his wine.

Aziraphale seemed only partially satisfied with that answer, but he sat in his chair and dropped the subject. They drank and spoke about other topics for a while, until they drifted into a content silence.

Crowley had closed his eyes to the pleasant feel of the wine settling into his blood when Aziraphale spoke.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to going dancing with you.”

Crowley opened his eyes.

Aziraphale was looking at Crowley with wide eyes and a nervous expression, twisting the wine glass in his fingers and looking like he wanted to bolt.

“You want to dance with me?”

“By the time we had figured it out, we had run out of time. I was enjoying myself and it was cut short,” Aziraphale responded. “I thought, well, now that we know what we’re doing…”

Stomach doing flips, Crowley set his wine glass down on the cluttered table. “Right.” He stood and made his way to the old phonogram that Aziraphale used to play records. “Do you have a waltz somewhere around here?”

“What. Now?”

Crowley turned to him and could see his throat bobbing anxiously. “Why not? We just took a lesson, after all. Might as well use it.”

Aziraphale plucked a record from a box that was sitting on the floor and handed it to Crowley, his eyes wide and his jaw tense.

Crowley switched the records. “Unless you don’t want to dance right now.”

Aziraphale set his wine aside and scrambled to stand next to Crowley. “No, no! It’s a splendid idea.”

The scratchy tune filled the shop, and Crowley turned towards Aziraphale. “Lead on.”

Alone, the clasp of their hands was much more intimate. The light in the shop was warm, the scratch of the phonogram was romantic, and Aziraphale’s face was full of wonder. They turned slowly. Crowley would follow wherever Aziraphale led, he realized, even if it meant his own destruction, and it was at once both frightening and wonderful.

“Crowley, can you remove your sunglasses?” Aziraphale asked, and his voice was strange. “I… I would like to see your eyes.”

Crowley swallowed and tilted his head. “Be my guest.”

Very gently, so gently that it ached deep in the recesses of Crowley’s chest, Aziraphale slid his hand from Crowley’s shoulder blade, grasped the sunglasses by the left arm, and pulled them from Crowley’s face.

“There we are,” Aziraphale breathed, absently setting the sunglasses down on the cluttered table. “Thank you.” His hand returned to its secure place on Crowley’s back, and he smiled.

This was everything. This was Creation and an Apocalypse gone wrong, and countless dinners and lunches and drinks at the Ritz. This was the picnics they would have, the small town they would move to when London grew tiresome, and the way the lamplight cast a golden glow on the fond expression on Aziraphale’s face as they danced a slow waltz in the back room of a dusty bookshop.

“My dear, thank you for suggesting the dance class,” Aziraphale said when it was close to becoming too much.

“I didn’t think it would be like this,” Crowley replied, throat dry. "But I'm glad we did it." 

When Crowley leaned forward and to kiss Aziraphale, the angel met him halfway.

Crowley was quite certain he was going to discorporate right there in the back of the bookshop, with Aziraphale’s mouth on his and the angel’s hand pressing in a warm splay of fingers on Crowley’s back. This hot press of mouths was surely fatal. The way Crowley’s head was full of Aziraphale’s cologne and that faint hint of ozone that always clung to his skin.

“My dear Crowley,” Aziraphale breathed, and he kissed Crowley again.

Crowley pressed his palm against the gentle curve of Aziraphale’s cheek and slid his thumb along the corner of his mouth. “Angel.”

Aziraphale looked at him with a desperate fondness, and Crowley realized the expression wasn’t new. But in this new context, Crowley realized exactly what it was. He was having trouble breathing.

“I love you, Crowley. More than anything.”

Crowley blinked, and there was wetness on his cheeks. Aziraphale reached up and thumbed the moisture away. “Oh, my dear.”

“I love you too,” Crowley choked. “So much.”

Aziraphale sealed their mouths in another kiss, and when he pulled back he was beaming. “This probably took us longer than it should have, but I'm glad we made it. You deserve all the love and tenderness I can offer you."

Crowley sucked in a tight breath and squeezed Aziraphale's hand where it was still clasped with his. "You deserve the world. The universe," Crowley replied. 

"What I want, my dear, is you."

Crowley smiled. "You have me." 

Aziraphale smiled back at him, bright and white. "Shall we continue our dance?”

Crowley nodded, more than a bit overwhelmed, and the two fell back into the easy rhythm. If the waltz ticked on long after the record had stopped spinning, well, that was for no one but the two man-shaped beings turning gently, embracing one another like they had all the time in the world, to know.