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“You know what to do; do it with style.” Beeeeeep.

“Crowley, it’s Aziraphale, the estate agent rang again and I cannot fathom what he is on about, could you kindly pick up? Crowley? Oh, dear, I suppose you’re asleep, never mind, but I do hope you’ll come by and sort this as soon as you awaken, dear boy.” A scintilla of peeve, an infinitesimal iota of actual irk, entered the angel’s mild voice. “And anyroad, what do you mean, ‘do it with style’? However does one leave an ansaphone message with style?”

When Crowley awoke, he shook his head fondly at the message for its utter absence of style. Chuckling through the yawn brought on by acute lack of coffee, the demon snapped himself into a new and especially stylish outfit that included a rather decent Dunhill leather bomber. If Aziraphale wanted to know style — it wasn’t the oddest pursuit the angel had taken it into his head to study, not by half — he could learn from the best.

The lessons could start with the vital art of Making an Eff — that is, an Entrance. Crowley strutted ostentatiously past the bookshop windows and through the door to lean slowly and serpentinely against a convenient bookshelf, ending in precisely the pose that displayed his sartorial splendor to most demoniacally stylish effect. If he was expecting the angel to stop in his tracks and gape in movie-style lustful shock, however — and to be frank, he rather was — he was disappointed. “Oh, Crowley, good,” fluttered Aziraphale, peering over his reading-glasses from his perch behind the counter and commencing a rapid riffling-through of the piles of paper beside him. “The counter-offer’s come, and I must say I think someone’s trying to put one over on us in the matter of that boiler replacement. Do see what you think, there’s a good fellow.”

Crowley ngked. Crowley gaped. Crowley fumed. Then Crowley laughed, laughed himself hoarse, laughed until his serpent spine bent at extradimensional angles, Aziraphale looking on in polite bewilderment the while. “Oh, angel,” gasped Crowley at last, slipping his fingers under his Cutler and Gross shades to wipe the hilarity from his eyes, “Got to hand it to you, that was very nearly style.”

“Very nearly what?” Aziraphale had quite forgotten his ansaphone message.

“We’ll discuss it. Give me those.” Crowley cast a serpentine eye over the serpentine language in the papers, hm-ing and hrm-ing and hissing and barely remembering to keep his forked tongue inside his mouth in public. “Right. Got this, angel.” He flipped his mobile deftly from the pocket of his bomber, thumbed a call to their estate agent, and Made an Exit to the back room, his other hand wedged precariously in the back pocket of his Blackhorse Lane trimmest-possible-fit denims.

Glancing back to take in the effect of his Exit, Crowley found himself quite gratified by the way Aziraphale’s gaze was following that hand.

“Of course you have a style, angel,” Crowley discoursed airily from his perch on the old sofa, waving his temporarily-empty wineglass for emphasis. “’S all cocoa and tartan and velveteen, ’s all you, you know I adore it. Everyone has a style; some have more’n one, even. But having a style isn’t the same as having style.”

“But tartan is stylish,” Aziraphale mumbled protest, sitting ramrod-straight beside him.

“Was. Was.” Crowley winced at allowing even that much. “Okay, might have been once. Might. But it’s not now, it’s… look, real style has a — a — an environment it exists in, right? Real style looks at what’s going on ’round it and says, okay, this is a bit of all right, I’ll borrow it, that’s a load of bollocks, watch me subvert it, but the whole thing is, this is me, right? Style’s how you stack yourself against the world. And with it.”

“I feel rather more lost than I did after the Sergeant got me discorporated,” the angel observed, one rounded fingernail tapping against the wineglass in his other hand, “and I assure you I did not think that possible.”

“What’m saying is,” Crowley tried again, “your tartan can’t be style because the way you wear it, it’s utterly disconnected from —” He waved one hand at the front of the shop. “From Soho, from London, from now, from everything.”

“Not trendy, you mean.” Aziraphale rubbed his chin, regarding his demon thoughtfully. “You keep up with trends, Crowley. Are you saying that to have style I must dress as you do?”

“Style’s not a lease, angel, it’s not transferable,” Crowley protested. “Even leaving out the size difference, you’d look ridiculous in my kit, and — well, just look.” One demonic finger-snap, and Crowley stood and twirled to show himself off dressed Aziraphale-fashion, all fawn and buff and tartan and superannuated softness.

It was like — like — Aziraphale’s mind stuttered — like swaddling a honed razor in a fuzzy acrylic cozy crocheted by a seven-year-old. Sheer grotesquerie. “Point taken, Crowley! Point taken, I assure you. Do get all that off.”

One of Crowley’s eyebrows nearly reached his hairline. “Is that a temptation I hear, angel?”

“Not when you’re wearing that,” returned the angel, in a flat voice with a faint note of hurt in it.

Crowley snapped himself back into his own garb at once and knelt before the sofa. “Wasn’t poking fun, angel,” he said, penitent. “Just making a demonstration. Demon-stration. Let’s drop it, yeah? Thought you’d asked ’cos you wanted to know. ’S not important.”

Staying miffed was not Aziraphale’s strong suit these days. He ran his hand over Crowley’s head in token of forgiveness, letting the short strands of carefully-styled auburn hair tickle his palm as Crowley leaned into the caress. “It is, though,” the angel said, still thoughtful. “It’s important to you, and I never have quite understood it.” He patted the sofa next to him. “I should like to,” he said decisively. “I may never be a fashion icon, but I can at least try to understand.”

“Ah-ah.” Crowley shook one long index finger as he insinuated himself back onto the sofa beside his angel. “Fashion’s not style. Common mistake. Fashion’s what you make ridiculous amounts of money selling copies of to gits with all the style of Hastur’s maggots.”

Aziraphale considered this. “Gabriel,” he said. “Fashionable, certainly, but…” From the first syllable of the archangel’s name, Crowley started broadening his usual sofa-sprawl, smug self-satisfaction in every shifting line of his well-clothed body. Knowing the corporeal signifiers of a successful Crowleian tempting as well as anyone could, Aziraphale decided it was his turn to raise one eyebrow. “Do I want to know what you did, my dear?” he asked mildly.

“Oh, angel, I rather think you do, yessss.” Crowley extracted his mobile — ask ye not whence — and began poking industriously at it. “Gabriel ought to’ve tipped his tailorssss better. Good at what they do, they are, plenty of professional pride. Wasn’t an easssy job. But they hate that wanker almossst as much as I do. Almosssssst. Look, angel. From a big posh do across the pond. Look at thissssssss.”

Aziraphale looked. His face froze into an expression of prim consternation that sent Crowley’s already sky-high smugness levels soaring nearly to Alpha Centauri. “Oh. Oh, dear me. Oh, dear Heaven.”

“Getsss better. Zoom in on his middle a bit. Finger and thumb, like I showed you, angel.”

Aziraphale managed to pinch-and-zoom to the suggested area. “Oh. Indeed. He certainly did make an Effort, didn’t he.”

“Didn’t he jussssssssst.”

With a repelled little finger-wriggle, the angel pushed Crowley’s phone away, having discovered rather more about his erstwhile supervisor’s Effort than he had ever cared to know. “Crowley, I may have no style, but even I know properly-tailored trousers shouldn’t... erm... display that like that! However did he not notice?”

“Utter twatwaffle with plenty of fashion and zero ssstyle, that’sssss how.”

“And a terrifying tempter issuing a most enticing temptation.” Aziraphale patted Crowley’s leg, which now lay across his lap. “Well done, darling.”

“Thought you’d approve, angel.” They basked in Crowley’s exquisitely stylish minor vengeance for a little space.

“I suppose Heaven hasn’t style, generally?” Aziraphale picked up the thread.

“That bleached-bloodless echo chamber? Every angel dressed the same? Nah, no style. Whole point of style is, ’s distinctive, 's individual. Hell’s no better, though now and again I wonder what ol’ Beezle could pull off, set loose to try.”

“Individual,” Aziraphale repeated. “Who else has style, Crowley? Past or present.”

“Oh, there’s this one bloke you’ll love, ’alf a tick,” Crowley’s mobile pulled up Billy Porter’s iconic Oscars photo in a trice. “That is pure unadulterated style, there. Nobody else wearing anything like it — who could? Totally went for a certain effect, nailed it, loves it, leaning right into it, looks amazing.”

“Yes, quite,” said Aziraphale, his hand slipping under Crowley’s to tilt the mobile until he could see better. “Entirely individual, and I do declare, quite scrummy indeed. Pythagoras would have had something to say about those proportions.”

“Right, that’ll be enough of that, then.” Crowley snatched the mobile away. “Admire the style, angel, not the Porter.”

“But there’s no style even in that lovely gown without him in it, isn’t that right? It’s stylish because he chose it, and he chose it for reasons, and — am I reading his expression wrong, or is there a sort of defiance in it? A sort of — not a dare, quite, more of a knightly challenge.”

Crowley righted himself just enough to give Aziraphale a delighted clap on the shoulder. “Right on, angel, you’re getting it! Style’s all about a good challenge.”

“Or… a bad one. At last I begin to see why you were so upset with me over what I wore to France for crepes. Fashionable, and really absolutely lovely, but quite the wrong style.”

“Because…?” Crowley prompted, curious how well his lesson was sinking in. Aziraphale was clever, decidedly so, but in a dilatory, doggedly methodical way that Crowley occasionally wished he could inject pure essence of caffeine into.

Aziraphale sighed. “You said at the time. I hadn’t paid attention to context, so I didn’t realise how what I wore would come across. It met my standards, but not anyone else's. I — I often do that, don’t I? When choosing clothing, I mean. I forget it’s a sort of language, as deserving of study and proper usage as any other language. These days I assume everyone knows what I mean by my lovely old waistcoat, but however could they? It was made before they were even born! Oh, dear.”

“Well, angel, style’s not all clothes,” Crowley observed, slinging a consoling arm around his angel’s broad shoulders. “Ansaphone messages can have style. And that one Mercian back in the day — Godgifu, you remember her, put money into how many monasteries? Every kind of style, that one, bags of style, and not a stitch on her.”

“That poor woman. I was happy for that assignment, I must say. Leofric only did it to humiliate her, which she hadn’t earned in the slightest. Seven children she’d given him by then. Seven! And that ride cannot have been in the least comfortable.”

“No. Style often isn’t.” Crowley regarded his own fingernails. “Might’ve sent a curse in the general direction of a certain wanker who didn’t obey orders that day. Don’t tell Beezle, I hadn’t any orders myself. But you see how it goes, angel. Some are born with style, some achieve style, and some have style thr-r-r-r-ust upon them!” Crowley had taught himself to trill his forked tongue sometime in the bloody fourteenth century, as a momentary distraction from its horrors. He kept it up for reasons of style.

“Which are you?”

Ngk.” The easy, self-aggrandizing answer was also the wrong answer. “The second, I reckon,” Crowley said, after a moment. “Had to work for it, work out what I wanted and how to get there, learn how to see things changing, figure how I wanted to change with ’em. May look effortless, but ’s not. Gets easier with practice.”

“It does sound very complicated,” allowed the angel. “I wonder you let yourself be seen with me in public, Crowley, as much style as you have.”

Crowley needed to arrest this train of thought at once. The thought of an angel too self-conscious for picnics or dinners out or walks in the park was not to be borne. “Angel — Aziraphale, love of my life, I went head over heels for you when you gave away a certain sword, and lied about it so’s She wouldn’t take it away from a couple humans who really, really needed it. Don’t remember what you had on, don’t care, ’cos that? That was style, angel.”

“Really?” But Aziraphale could not help wiggling a little at Crowley’s praise. “Or are you just jollying me along, dear boy?”

Crowley slipped his hand under Aziraphale’s chin to turn the round face toward him. “I wouldn’t lie to you, angel,” he said softly, and printed a chaste kiss on Aziraphale’s lips to seal the promise. “Not sure style even existed ’fore you did that.”

Aziraphale returned the kiss, blue eyes shining. “Then I might not be hopeless after all. Could we perhaps —”

“Reckon so,” said the demon, helpless as always to refuse his angel anything. “Let’s look about a bit first, take some walks here and there maybe, get you a sense of environment. Then we’ll style you right up.”

“I’d quite like that, I think.”