Aziraphale doesn't remember there being a dining table in heaven. He's certain that's something he would have remembered. It would have been hard to miss, the dark wood of it stretching so far that he can't see the ends. He definitely would have remembered walking around it to report in. Though he goes back to heaven so rarely. It's possible they'd had it installed some time in the last millennia or so, and just neglected to mention it.
But why would they need a dining table? They have no corporeal forms here, so they can't eat. They're ethereal wavelengths of intent and celestial glory. Though, come to think of it, he does currently feel strangely weighty and present, as if heaven has somehow become a place that suddenly has mass and gravity. A place that feels oddly corporeal. Was there a change of policy that no one told him about again?
The table does seem be set for dinner, so perhaps he's been invited. He doesn't remember an invitation, though Aziraphale wouldn't have expected one, truth be told. He doubts he's anyone's first choice when it comes to company - not up here at least, on earth - well he hopes on earth it's different.
The Archangels are all seated within five chairs of him, and past them as the table continues into the far distance, are other angels. Most of them Aziraphale doesn't know personally, but still vaguely recognises - he could almost certainly bring up their names if pressed to, but no one seems inclined to ask. The vast reserves of his memory are rarely put to use, which he finds continually frustrating, but not particularly surprising.
Everyone seems to be looking at him though, and he finds that very uncomfortable.
"Aziraphale, why don't you start." Gabriel nods towards the table, as if Aziraphale is expected to know what's going on. Which leaves him panicking ever so slightly, because it's becoming clear that he's supposed to know why he's here. He's now convinced he'd missed a memo of some sort.
Though it occurs to him, suddenly and unsettlingly, that he's the only one at the table who has a plate.
"Sorry?" he manages, because perhaps if he stalls for a moment he'll remember why he's here, or he'll be able to put together enough clues to make it obvious. Anything to avoid Gabriel making him look stupid, making him look like he hasn't been paying attention. "Start what?"
"No need to apologise," Gabriel says immediately, still smiling that utterly insincere smile of his. The one he practices without a single idea of how false it looks. He gestures towards the table. "To eat of course. We've acquired all the gross matter that you like."
"I beg your pardon?" Aziraphale's voice sounds as shocked as he feels.
"The food." Michael pronounces the word as if she'd only just learned it, and was quite sure she didn't like the way it sounded.
The table is indeed heavy with various dishes, bowls, trays and platters. Seemingly set out wherever there was room, with no regard to meal or flavour. There are soups, delicate fish dishes, whole roasted birds, oysters, sandwiches and enormous game pies. There are potatoes, rice, steamed vegetables, cooked meats (spiced and cured and smoked,) cold meats and cheeses, crackers, pate, devilled eggs, olives, and several dozen types of bread. And in every small space between there are smaller plates, and bowls, of dessert. Ice creams and pastries, biscuits, confections and puddings. Until every inch of the table is overwhelmed with food.
Though for some reason there's still only the sterile, ozone smell of heaven, the almost acidic tang of purified air. Though many of the dishes are steaming gently, they have no aroma. It's unsettling, as if nothing on the table is entirely real. There seems to be no end to the food though, it stretches along the table and down. Aziraphale has never seen so many dishes together in one place, seemingly plucked from different continents and time periods.
"We didn't know how much you needed," Gabriel offers, and that makes someone further down the table laugh. "So we got some of everything."
"We want to see what it looks like, when you put it inside you," Michael explains.
"We expect it will be disgusting," Sandalphon adds from two chairs to his left.
"It'll be a fascinating process to watch." Uriel decides with a nod, then shifts in her chair so she can lean in further, as if Aziraphale is an experiment, something to be observed carefully, a cautionary tale.
"No, it's not - it's not like that," Aziraphale protests, suddenly horrified and embarrassed beyond all measure. "I'm not going to eat for your amusement."
"Come now, Aziraphale, it's the least you owe heaven," Gabriel says firmly. Which makes something heavy settle in Aziraphale's stomach, an unpleasant wave of tightness he's become very familiar with. The reminder that he's been a disappointment, that he's performed far from adequately by their standards. That he's setting a bad example, and letting the side down.
Gabriel doesn't wait for an answer but starts spooning potatoes onto Aziraphale's plate, completely ignoring the protesting hand that Aziraphale tries to insert underneath, while Michael moves a large platter of steamed vegetables closer, and Uriel loads the small plate next to him with dinner rolls.
They're paying no attention to his quiet protests at all, as if his opinion, and his feelings, don't even matter.
"Put one of everything on his plate," Sandalphon says, and there's an unpleasant amount of enthusiasm in the words. "I've heard he's used to eating three times every day."
There's a brief chorus of disbelieving sounds from around him, quickly followed by a ripple of amusement, and Aziraphale has never felt less hungry in his life. This is unbearable. He's quite certain he doesn't want to be here. But he knows, somehow, that he won't be allowed to leave, that leaving is impossible now.
"These, try one of these." Michael pushes a tray of tiny fondant cakes towards Gabriel. "He likes these. I've seen him putting them in his mouth."
Gabriel regards the tray with obvious disgust, but nods as if Michael has made a fine suggestion. He lifts one of the small cakes, a pink fondant cube, decorated with a dark, glazed cherry and chocolate shavings. He holds it carefully between finger and thumb, mouth pressed into a grim line, as if the idea of any of it adhering to his skin disturbs him.
"Yes, this one."
"Look at it," Sandalphon mutters. "It's hideous."
"Is it sticky, why is it sticky?" Michael asks, sounding vaguely horrified.
"It's disgusting," Uriel decides, face pinching in like she can't imagine anyone wanting it close to them.
"Make him eat it," Sandalphon insists, as if he can't think of anything he'd enjoy more.
The expression on Gabriel's face is determined and implacable, a certainty that he's doing this for Aziraphale's own good.
"No, Gabriel, please this is ridiculous." Aziraphale wishes he sounded more firm, he wishes he could protest more strongly. He can't quite believe this is happening. He can't remember the last time he felt this powerless. "I'm not going to humiliate myself for your amusement."
"Come on, Aziraphale. You failed at everything else, at least do the one thing we know you can be relied upon to do." There's another quiet hum of amusement from the rest of the vast table.
The cake is thrust towards him, as if Gabriel expects nothing less than obedience, and Aziraphale realises with a sense of utter despair that he's going to do what he's told. He's going to be a good angel and follow the rules, and do what his superior tells him to do. It's devastating and he can't bear it.
Gabriel leans further over the table, wood creaking beneath him.
The cake is inches from Aziraphale's mouth, when a long-fingered hand reaches into his view, and slaps it out of Gabriel's fingers. It falls with a little squelch onto a plate of Austrian cheeses.
"Hey, no dessert before starters. Honestly, what are you all savages?"
Aziraphale turns in his seat, at that familiar voice, to find Crowley to the right of him. But his relief and happiness is quickly eclipsed by dawning horror.
"Crowley," he breathes. "What are you doing here, you can't be here. They'll kill you."
"Came to rescue you, didn't I?" Crowley says, as if it's obvious. He picks up the napkin beside his plate with two fingers and shakes it elegantly, drops it over his lap. "You think I was going to let you go to dinner without me?"
Aziraphale squeezes his hands together, torn between his utter relief at having Crowley here with him, and his terrible and choking fear that something awful was going to happen to him. Something that would undoubtedly be his fault.
"Shssh, it's fine, angel," Crowley gestures down at himself with a long sweep of hand. "I'm in disguise."
Crowley has indeed changed his wardrobe for the occasion. His jeans and shirt are now a subtle shade of very pale grey with a silver trim, and his jacket and scarf are a smokey off-white. There's a white top hat sat to the side of his plate, and the glasses he's currently eyeing Aziraphale over are a molten shade of silver.
He certainly looks very fetching, but there's no way that the other angels are going to be fooled.
"Crowley, please, they're going to find out."
"Nah, it's the outfit that matters, isn't it? No one will notice."
Which is - oh, of course, he hadn't thought of that. Aziraphale forces himself to relax. Because Crowley's right, he's dressed perfectly sensibly, and everything will be fine.
Somehow everyone else has plates now too, and they're attempting to fill them, though they don't seem to know how a meal is put together. Knowledge of food groups seems to have been designated non-essential because they're combining savouries and sweets with sauces that definitely don't go together, like they all had their own stomachs now, and were intent on punishing them.
Sandalphon is pouring custard on his roasted duck. He seems uncertain about this, but no one else has chosen the same dish, so he'd been unable to cheat and copy someone else. Michael is spooning curry onto her steamed trout, possibly because she likes the colour combination, and Uriel has decided she doesn't like the devilled egg she'd chosen, but isn't sure how to get rid of the second half of it. While Gabriel has just decided he will put the biggest steak he can see onto his plate, and then defend it.
Hanael, seated next to Michael, has somehow realised that gravy goes with meat, though they seem to think it's a dipping sauce. Either that or they're just making their own soup.
"Oi, you, you don't even have the right cutlery," Crowley snaps at Michael. "Are you eating cake? No, no you're eating fish, put that cake fork down."
Michael colours in embarrassment, and very quickly starts searching for the right fork on the other side of the table. Aziraphale can't help but feel smug in the knowledge that she probably won't find it. Not only does no one know the right cutlery to eat with. No one knows how to use cutlery properly. Gabriel stabs his steak and then just leaves the fork sticking straight up, bewildered.
Crowley tuts in disgust. "Honestly, cut it, that's what the knife is for. No, don't hold it out to me, I'm not your Nanny, Gabriel."
Uriel hasn't worked out when you're supposed to stop passing things and when you're supposed to eat, and next to her, Raguel is, for some unknown reason, trying to cram peas into a tuna sandwich.
Crowley makes a vaguely disgusted noise and butters half a roll, with what Aziraphale can't help but think is something of a smug flourish.
"They're awful at this aren't they, look at them. No table manners at all." Crowley delicately balances the buttered roll on Aziraphale's plate. It looks deliciously fresh, and Aziraphale knows it will still be warm, and will crack beautifully when he bites into it.
Crowley leaves his side briefly to uncork the champagne, which Gabriel promptly gets all over his sleeve when he tries to pour too fast, and complains about it. Sandalphon gets half of it up his nose and reacts like he's being murdered. Michael will not touch it, insisting that the bubbles are demonic work. They really are utterly ridiculous, and Aziraphale can't remember the last time he smiled this much.
He takes the glass he's handed when Crowley slips back into his seat, meeting in a brief press of fingers that warms Aziraphale all the way through. There's a pool of champagne on the tablecloth, and Uriel is protesting that it wasn't her, moving dishes to contain the spill. Which means there are now potatoes rolling on the floor, and Michael's lap is full of ginger and lemon spiced asparagus. Sandalphon is trying to mop it up with sandwiches, and Gabriel is desperately trying to wring his sleeve back into his glass.
Crowley shoots him a terribly amused look over his glass, and he really is a fiend, but he's Aziraphale's fiend.
"Fancy dessert, angel? I saw you eyeing the little cake. I know you wanted to try it."
"Oh, I do," Aziraphale says, and then immediately frowns, because the memory of Gabriel trying to force him to eat it is still very fresh in his mind.
"Ugh, don't think about him, typical Archangel, no table manners, can't adapt for shit. I'd love to sit him at one of those medieval banquets, remember those? See him try and keep his composure when someone's spraying meat juices and bone marrow all over him."
Aziraphale can't help the smile at the thought, he certainly wouldn't have appreciated the singing that came after. Or the entertainment, which often involved the leftovers.
"Go on." Crowley nudges him gently. "You know you want to."
"It does look very appealing," Aziraphale admits quietly.
"Probably tastes amazing too. Here, I'll make it easy for you." Crowley very carefully lifts a small cake from the abandoned tray, in one sharp-fingered hand, and holds it delicately just above Aziraphale's plate. He makes no move to bring it forward. "Tell me you don't want to try it?"
The small cake does look delicious. Aziraphale sighs surrender and opens his mouth.
"There we are." Crowley smiles and leans into him, presses that fondant delicacy against his lower lip for just a second, before tucking it into his mouth, long finger gliding down over his lip and out. He smiles when Aziraphale closes and bites down, with a noise of shivery pleasure.
It really is lovely, sweetness and soft sponge, with just a hint of bitter cherry and chocolate.
"There we go, that one was good, yes?" Crowley sounds so satisfied that Aziraphale can't help the little moan of happiness, he nods.
Someone loses a plate off the table with a faint crash. Crowley sighs and shoots the assembled Archangels a frustrated look over his glasses.
"Do you all mind? Really, I'm trying to have a moment here. Honestly, I can't do anything without you lot making a nuisance of yourselves."
"This is cold in my mouth, I don't like it," Michael complains numbly, while ice cream drips from her spoon into a bowl of olives. "Is it supposed to be cold."
"Put some of this in it, it's still warm." Sandalphon passes her the gravy.
"No, Sandalphon, gravy doesn't go on dessert, honestly." Crowley cuts a look at Aziraphale and shakes his head. "Amateurs, the lot of them."
Aziraphale laughs because there's really no other word that describes them so well right now.
Crowley has abandoned his plate entirely, leaning into the side of Aziraphale's chair. He stretches an arm back towards the table. There's another cake, another slide of fingers, another touch to the soft line of his mouth afterwards, and Aziraphale is so very warm, insides coiling and twisting in a way that's so deliciously pleasurable.
He's no longer paying any attention to the others, they're simply a chorus of complaints, spilled food and dropped cutlery.
Crowley seems to only have eyes for him as well now, all his subtlety and careful nonchalance thrown away in favour of this intimate closeness, which thrills Aziraphale with its daring newness. He opens his mouth before the next cake is even lifted, and Crowley is laughing as he places it on his tongue.
Crowley tuts once he's swallowed, and presses a thumb to the corner of Aziraphale's mouth, swiping gently, as if to catch crumbs that had strayed. Though it doesn't move away after. It drags across his lower lip, an indulgent sweep that pulls at the plushness of it, before pressing down. Aziraphale can't resist the little sigh, drawn all the way up from his chest, because he's such a ridiculous tangle of fondness and sensation. He thinks it would be very lovely if Crowley kissed him.
Crowley makes a noise, something amused and delighted.
"Since you asked so nicely," he mutters, and leans in.
And just like that Aziraphale has that sharp, lovely mouth pressed firmly against his own.
He hears the sound of someone dropping a spoon on the other side of the table, and there are shocked exclamations, like they've scandalised everyone. Which is so unbelievably satisfying that Aziraphale can do nothing but kiss Crowley harder.
Crowley's hand lifts, curves at his jaw, and it seems impolite not to let it gently ease his mouth open, to let Crowley chase the sweetness of fondant and cherries into his mouth, all sliding tongue and soft noises, that turn his insides to liquid. The chair creaks gently when Crowley leans into him, hand sliding to catch the back of his neck as the kiss deepens, goes wet and hungry.
Aziraphale's whole body is suddenly entirely too warm, heavy with something that needs desperately. He can't help wondering what it would feel like to fold their atoms together -
" - 'Ziraphale."
Aziraphale blinks, finds himself abruptly in a not altogether comfortable slouch in his favourite armchair. He's in the backroom of the bookshop, the lamps are low enough that the room has a dim orange warmth to it. It's all very confusing for a moment.
"What?" Because weren't they just - at dinner? "How did I get here?"
Crowley is leant over him in the semi-darkness, eyes curious over his glasses. He's a familiar, curving line of dark clothing and frown lines. He has the half-open weight of a book clasped loosely in one hand, that Aziraphale vaguely remembers being in the middle of reading...some time ago. He thinks it must have slipped off his lap.
"You fell asleep," Crowley tells him.
"I did?" Aziraphale doesn't quite believe him for a minute. He'd tried sleep a few times and hadn't liked it. He'd found the periods of missing time strangely upsetting, and hadn't enjoyed the way it took his body a minute to remember exactly where it was and how it worked. The idea that his body could do it without his permission was more than a little disturbing. The idea that it could entertain itself at the same time, more disturbing by far.
Crowley seems to sense his vague distress and pats him reassuringly.
"Yeah, I figured, the week we've had I'd leave you to it. But I know you generally don't as a rule, and when you started making noises - suspected you were dreaming. I know they can be a bit weird to start with. It's either a bunch of nonsense or an unpleasant trip through your own subconscious. And after everything that's happened this week, well, I thought I better wake you, just in case. Wouldn't want you to end up somewhere disturbing."
'Disturbed' is not exactly what Aziraphale is feeling at present.
"Quite right," he says faintly.