Crowley watched as Aziraphale read over the new sign on the front door. It was an excellent sign, as far as Crowley was concerned, since he had composed it. He waited for the angel’s reaction.
The Bookshop is permanently closed. This is now a private residence.
Solicitors should phone 0800-HELLDUKE and ask for Hastur, census takers should put down “none of the above”, and as for people who wish me to find God—been there, done that, got the medal. Now GO AWAY.
Aziraphale pursed his lips. He made a little humming sound. “Oh, dear.”
“Good, isn’t it?”
“I do think it could be a trifle less…well, off-putting.”
Crowley rolled his eyes. “That’s the whole point. We want to put people off.”
“Yes!” Honestly. How did Aziraphale expect to have a peaceful, quiet home if random strangers insisted on trying to come inside?
“Hm.” Aziraphale pointed to the note. “Is that a real telephone number?”
“Nah.” Though he wished it were—would give Hastur and his ilk a world of annoyances. “Pity.”
Aziraphale sighed. “I suppose it will do.” He shut the door and turned round to gaze at the bookshop’s cluttered interior. “A private residence.” He rubbed his hands together. “Brilliant idea, my dear.”
“Thanks.” Crowley made sure to lock the door. He strolled over to stand close to his best friend. “Just needs a bit of redecorating and remodeling before I can move in.”
“Move in?” Aziraphale gaped at him. “Since when are you moving in?”
“Since I came up with the idea to make it a home instead of a bookshop.” It had hardly been difficult to convince the angel that this was a grand plan—his friend clearly had no further need for a base of operations from which to perform his heavenly duties. He had no heavenly duties. And it would keep his books safe and sound from acquisitive humans.
Aziraphale sighed. “A ploy, was that it? One of your clever ways to get what you want through devious means?”
“I’m not devious.” Crowley studied the bookshelf layout. “We could shift some of these around to make room for a larger sitting area.”
“Oh, we could, could we? And since when are you not devious?”
“Since I left my former employers.” He wandered over to the small space where the sofa seemed crammed in among the other furnishings. “Widen this out, put a fireplace against that wall, put in a larger sofa over there—”
“Crowley, you are not moving in here!” Aziraphale came over to look at the sofa. “Though it would be nice to have a fireplace.”
“But I want to move in here.” Best friends clearly ought to live together now that any and all constraints against doing so had been removed. Surely the angel could see that. “We’re friends. And we love each other. Right?”
Aziraphale stared at him for a little too long. Then he sighed again. “Yes. Of course we do.” He went over to the small kitchen and set about making tea.
“Then what’s the problem?” Crowley sank onto the sofa. Definitely could be larger. And that wall behind the desk would be perfect for his flatscreen TV.
“The problem, my dear, is that we have different tastes.”
Crowley watched him fiddle about with the tea-making process. True, he didn’t care to drink tea as often as his friend did, but that hardly mattered. “I like cocoa all right.”
“Not exactly what I meant.” The kettle whistled. Aziraphale poured the water into the teapot.
“We both like wine,” Crowley offered.
“Well, yes, there is that.”
Aziraphale brought a tray over to the coffee table and set it down. One teapot, two mugs, cream and sugar and spoons. Ever so proper. Then he sat on the sofa beside Crowley, instead of in his usual armchair, and turned towards him with a questioning expression.
Crowley quirked an eyebrow at him. He had discarded his sunglasses ages ago. “What?”
“Are you aware that you said we loved each other a short while ago?”
Of course he was aware of that. “Yup.” Was there some reason a plain fact needed any embellishment? “And you agreed, as I recall.”
Aziraphale shook his head and murmured, “Dear, dear, dear.”
Crowley, perplexed, just stared at him. What was the angel fretting over now? They had been friends for thousands of years. They had saved each other’s lives more times than he could count on the fingers of both hands. They had gone out of their way to care for each other. They had defied Heaven and Hell to save the world together, and had been willing to face the consequences together. He had seen the love for him in Aziraphale’s eyes, and he was certain the angel wasn’t blind to Crowley’s affection.
So he had simply stated something that was obviously true. “Angel? Something wrong?”
Aziraphale reached to take Crowley’s nearest hand in his. “It’s the first time you’ve said it. It was a bit…well, you made it sound rather ordinary.”
Crowley looked at their joined hands. “It isn’t ordinary?”
“No.” Aziraphale squeezed his hand. “This is precisely what I mean when I say we have different tastes. And differing approaches to life. Love is an extraordinary feeling, something to be cherished. Yes, I know it’s true, and I’d been meaning to bring it up at some point soon, now that we are free to be together, but I had intended to do so in a slightly more romantic fashion, my dear.”
“Oh.” Hm. Yes, his angel did like to move slowly, and do things properly. “Do you want me to court you or something?”
Aziraphale smiled. “That would be lovely. You are far too hasty in your actions at times. Take more care, please.” Then he let go his hold. “Tea should be steeped.” He poured it out, adding cream to his own, and sugar to Crowley’s.
“Great. Fine.” He could do that. Maybe. If he could figure out what Aziraphale expected. Which could get tricky. Damn. Crowley picked up his tea and sipped. “Right. And after I’m done courting you, then can I move in here?”
“We shall see.” Aziraphale drank his tea. “Ah. Delightful flavor.”
Crowley pursed his lips and frowned. “What do you mean, ‘we shall see’?”
“As I said, we have differing tastes. You watch television. I do not.”
“Fine. I won’t put the TV on that wall behind your desk then.”
“You most certainly will not. You also listen to bebop. I shall listen to classical music in my home.”
“I’ll get headphones.” Really, it wasn’t that hard to find ways to compromise. Though he seemed to be doing all the compromising. “Don’t tell me you have any objections to houseplants.”
“Of course I don’t. However, I do object to the way you yell at them.”
Ngk. “So no TV, none of my favorite music, and I have to talk sweetly to my plants. What are you going to do to make living together easier?”
Aziraphale looked thoughtful for some time. “Ah,” he said at last, “I have it. There is a basement in this building which I’ve never used. What if I miracle up an entrance ramp and turn it into a garage for that beastly car of yours?”
“My car is not beastly.” That was a good idea, though. Yes, he had no trouble finding parking spaces near the bookshop thanks to his supernatural powers, but protecting the precious Bentley from rain, mud, sleet, and wind would not come amiss.
“I suppose the car does come in handy,” Aziraphale admitted.
Crowley finished his tea. “So. When would you like to go on our first date?”
“You decide, my dear. And do it properly.”
Crowley racked his brain for memories of the many movies he’d watched that involved romantic endeavors. What did courtship involve these days? Or better still, in olden days of yore where Aziraphale seemed to dwell.
He cleared his throat. “Aziraphale, would you care to step out with me tomorrow morning for a meander around the park, followed by luncheon at the Ritz? Would my arrival upon your doorstep at eleven o’clock suit?”
His best friend positively beamed. “Oh, yes, that would do admirably.”
Crowley set his teacup down and rose. “See you, then, Angel.” As he headed for the door, he turned round and added, “I think we could use a bigger kitchen in here.”
Then he strode out of the bookshop before Aziraphale could reply.
He spent the rest of that day and evening watching romantic movies and flicking through various courtship articles on his phone.
After all that research, Crowley realized the angel had a point. The couples in the movies spent a lot of time dancing around the obvious, and not once did one of the pair simply announce he was moving in without a whole lot of preliminary footwork.
Not that Aziraphale had seen any of these cinematographic shows. But he read novels. Dangerous things, novels. Gave people—and supernatural entities—idealistic visions of what true romance should be.
So yes, the angel had a valid point about doing things properly, although Crowley still thought it a tad ridiculous that six thousand years of dancing around the obvious wasn’t good enough.
On the other hand, it had also been six thousand years of dancing with Heavenly and Hellish chaperones who insisted on keeping them apart. This newfound freedom, he supposed, had made Aziraphale reboot their dance back to step one. Now they were starting over at the metaphorical ball, this time with the chaperones banished for good.
“Okay, I can do this.” He rose the next morning and snapped his clothes and hair into pristine condition. New world, new rules, free to love his Angel. Slowly. Properly, without his typical live-in-the-moment style. Ngk.
Flowers. That’s what he needed. Most of those romantic films had flowers in them at some point. Roses were popular. And orchids. Crowley took his phone out to find the nearest florist. “I can do this.” Yup.
“These roses are lovely.” Aziraphale took the bouquet and headed over to the sink. “I’ll just put them in some water and then we can have our stroll.”
Success. So far. “The florist said yellow roses are for friendship and new beginnings.”
“Perfect choice, then, my dear.” Aziraphale returned holding an ornate crystal vase. He set it on the windowsill. “There.” Then he gestured towards the door. “Shall we?”
It was a sunny September day, with just a hint of autumn crispness in the air. They walked to St. James’s Park, and then strolled slowly round the paths. Crowley offered an arm to his companion, who took it happily.
Once they reached their favorite duck feeding spot, they disengaged their hold. Crowley bought cracked corn from a vendor and handed over a packet.
They tossed the food to the squabbling Mallards. When they were finished, Crowley said, “So. I have a question.”
“Yes?” Aziraphale looked at him, eyebrows raised.
“How long does a courtship last in your world?”
“Excellent question. In Victorian times, these little engagements often took a year or two.”
“A year?” Crowley shook his head. “No, please no—Angel, I hate my flat! It’s stark and empty and I never really lived there, it was only for show!”
“Hm. You could redecorate.”
“I don’t want to redec—” He broke off. Perhaps he ought to, if this was going to take years. Crowley grimaced.
“There, there, dear boy.” Aziraphale patted his arm. “I do know you like to go fast, so I shall take pity on you. What do you say to three months?”
September, October, November…not too dreadfully long a time, he supposed. Crowley checked his watch. “Today is the fifteenth. On December fifteenth, this courtship is going to reach a happy conclusion.” If it didn’t, he was planning to take a very long nap.
Aziraphale took his arm as they continued their stroll. He smiled. “We shall see.”
They lunched at the Ritz, and Crowley dutifully paid the bill. Afterwards, he escorted his friend back to the bookshop, where he stayed on the porch instead of brazenly sauntering in as he usually did.
“Aziraphale,” he said, “I enjoyed our stroll and our meal together immeasurably. I find myself enamored of your many charms. May I have the pleasure of your company at the sushi restaurant of your choice tomorrow evening?”
“Crowley, have you been reading Austen?”
“Jane Austen. Early 1800s novelist? Pride and Prejudice? Sense and Sensibility? Emma?”
“Oh, yeah. Her.” He’d seen a film version of one of those. And he had read parts of one on the Gutenberg Project site. “Possibly.”
“Goodness. I had no idea you would devote such effort. I’m impressed.”
Crowley smiled softly. “You’re worth all the effort in the world, Angel. No, I take that back. In the whole universe.”
Aziraphale gave him a look of deepest affection. “Thank you.” He leaned in to give Crowley a quick kiss on the cheek. “I shall expect you tomorrow evening, then, say around seven?”
“On the dot.” His cheek felt warm. “Love you, Angel.” Then he frowned. “I’m not supposed to say that yet, am I?” Proper courtship came before the declaration of love. Idiot. “Sorry.”
“Perfectly all right.” Aziraphale opened the bookshop door and stepped inside. As he slowly closed it, he whispered, “Mind how you go, my dear.”
Crowley taped up a wall calendar and began marking off the days.
The rest of September involved a lot of walks, a lot of meals, and several outings to the musical theatre. He brought more flowers to the bookshop, and three boxes of chocolates. He took Aziraphale to an antique auction, where he made the winning bid on a Regency snuffbox, which he had wrapped in gold foil with a white ribbon before handing it over.
“I do like the way you are taking the extra step,” Aziraphale said when he opened it. “For someone who enjoys going fast, you are adapting quite well to a slower pace.”
Crowley, much to his own surprise, had discovered that he liked going slow. The delight that Aziraphale expressed whenever Crowley did something considerate or attentive to the angel’s needs and desires made him feel good.
His friend’s decision to reset the clock on their relationship had proved a wonderful idea. Crowley had spent all those millennia rushing through their friendship because he’d had no choice—every moment they had together had been a stolen moment. Every chance encounter had been fraught with tension, and cursed with the knowledge that someone might notice at any time, bringing an end to everything he held dear.
They had hurried their friendship for so long, it became the default mode. Every meal or drink they enjoyed together had felt all the more precious for being so dangerous. Every chat, every walk together, every time they saved each other from disaster was laden with anxieties, with only the briefest respite when, for too short a time, they would forget their fears within the bond of laughter or the simple joy of each other’s company—until they remembered once more who and what they were.
They had managed to piece together a friendship within that troubled existence. They had found a path to affection, and they had grown to love one another within those stolen moments. But it was a love that felt as if it had struggled to break through Heaven and Hell’s barriers in fits and starts, here and there, now and then. It had survived, but it had not thrived.
Aziraphale was right to want the romance. They needed this slowing down, this re-examination, this new love. One that was steady, a love that was solid and smooth, a love which began with a friendship that was no longer hidden.
What they needed, Crowley had come to realize, was a careful love, in every sense of the word. He wanted to take his time to watch it grow anew.
He wanted to bask in the light of a love that no longer needed to be rushed.
The marks on his calendar moved on into October.
Crowley redecorated his flat with comfortable furniture. He miraculously lowered the ceilings and turned the walls a heavenly blue.
And he started talking sweetly to his houseplants.
“Did da Vinci ever tell you why he wrote backwards?” Aziraphale asked as he examined the glass case in which a few pages of notes were displayed.
“He was left-handed—it kept the paper from getting smudged with ink.”
“Ah. Nothing mysterious about it, then?”
They strolled over to the next case, which held several small sketches. This Renaissance Masters exhibit at the National Gallery was something Aziraphale had been looking forward to for months, and he was overjoyed when Crowley turned up with tickets to the Members Only Evening Preview.
“He was quite an unusual fellow.” Aziraphale looked at Crowley. “You were fond of him, I know. And you rarely made friends with humans.”
Crowley meandered over to the nearby wall, where one of the few paintings by Leonardo was hung. “He was very fond of me, too.”
Aziraphale joined him, standing close enough for their shoulders to touch. “Do you think he loved you?”
“He never said so.” Crowley peered intently at the landscape behind the figures in the painting. “But I think he might have.” He pointed at the canvas. “See that bush there, just to the right of the biggest rock? I painted that.”
“Did.” Crowley thought it an excellent bush. “He used to let his apprentices do the fiddly bits sometimes.”
“You weren’t an apprentice.”
“No, but I hung out in the studio a lot. We got drunk there one night after everyone else left. Leo let me have a go at that bit of shrubbery. Okay, so maybe he touched it up a little later—still, pretty decent effort if you ask me.”
Aziraphale slid his arm around Crowley’s waist. “Braggart.”
“Maybe I’ll take up painting in retirement,” Crowley teased. “We could make room for a studio in the bookshop.”
“I am not having oil paint in there. Or any flammable solvents.”
Crowley slipped his arm around Aziraphale. “No need to worry. I miracled up a protective anti-fire shield round it after—well, you know.” He preferred not to revisit that worst day of his long life.
They moved along, looking over the exhibit in a slow, steady fashion. Aziraphale enjoyed reading every placard, and took his time over every painting and artifact. Having lived through the Renaissance, they found several factual errors, but Crowley convinced Aziraphale that trying to explain their knowledge to the curator would be a fruitless effort.
“It was an excellent exhibit all the same,” Aziraphale pronounced as they left the Gallery. “Thank you for a lovely evening.”
Stars twinkled as they walked to Crowley’s car. He opened the door for his friend, as he’d been doing since this courtship began. “Back to the bookshop? Or do you want to stop somewhere for a drink first?”
“Why don’t we have a nightcap at the bookshop?”
They had not spent much time there over the past month. Crowley picked Aziraphale up there for dates, and dropped him off after, but that had been it. There had been a kind of unwritten rule that one did not intrude on the personal territory of one’s object of wooing, as part of the whole old-fashioned way they’d been behaving.
Thus, Crowley got a shiver of excitement up his spine when Aziraphale casually suggested they have a drink there. As he pulled up to park in front of the shop, he said, “Bit forward of you, yes?”
“It is, isn’t it?” Aziraphale gave him a downright coy smile. “Are you going to open the car door, my dear?”
Anything for love. Crowley did so, and they went inside, where Aziraphale found a bottle of brandy to share.
“Perhaps we should put it in some cocoa,” he said.
“That sounds cozy.”
It was. After fixing the cocoa and adding a good portion of brandy, Aziraphale curled up on the sofa beside Crowley, legs tucked under, their thighs and shoulders touching.
Aziraphale sipped his cocoa. “Mmm. How is yours?”
“Perfect evening, too, I might add.” He lay a hand on Crowley’s thigh. “I do feel unusually affectionate tonight.”
“Hm.” Crowley glanced at his watch. “It’s October fifteenth. We’ve been dating for one whole month. I take it that I am meeting your expectations?”
“And then some.”
Crowley smiled as he drank his brandy and cocoa. “Glad to hear it.” He stared pointedly at Aziraphale’s hand on his thigh. “What exactly is the protocol for who makes the first romantic move?”
“As the one being pursued, I should give the first indication that such attentions will not be repulsed.”
“And are you doing that right now?”
“I believe that I am.”
Crowley lay a hand atop Aziraphale’s. “What does that leave for the next two months, then?”
“Tonight should be a minor romantic flirtation. A cuddle, a light bit of snuggling, a fleeting kiss. Just enough to give encouragement for further pursuit.”
“Ah. Got it.” Crowley felt the shiver down his spine again. This one-month buildup to a fleeting kiss had been totally worth doing, for the anticipation of that kiss filled him with more pleasure than he’d ever known. Instead of hurtling headlong into every emotional swing as he normally would do, he’d been forced to rein it all in. He had kept his love tamped down, and it had been simmering away below the surface. Where once he might have spoiled his pleasure by rushing through love, now he could extend the joys far longer.
Aziraphale set down his mug. He wrapped an arm round Crowley’s waist and rested his head against his shoulder. “This past month has been fun.”
“Yeah,” Crowley agreed. “You know, it has been fun.” He finished his cocoa and set the mug aside. He turned into the embrace, putting an arm round Aziraphale. “I’m looking forward to more.”
“It is important, of course, during a courtship, that the couple get to thoroughly know each other better.”
Crowley laughed. “Are you sure we need to know each other better?”
Aziraphale nodded. “I believed that I knew everything about you that one person could possibly know about another. And yet I don’t know everything, do I?” He brushed his fingers along Crowley’s cheek. “How do you spend your Sunday mornings when I’m at the barber? What is your favorite color after black and red? Do you ever have dreams where you’re flying? I really ought to know everything by now.”
“I sleep in,” Crowley replied. “Blue. Yes.”
“See?” Aziraphale raised his head to lightly kiss Crowley’s temple. “And one more question. What do you want most? You have been giving me so many delights this past month. I want to reciprocate. Tell me what you would like more than anything else.”
“Other than moving in here, you mean?”
“Yes. We’re still working up to that.”
Crowley smiled. As if there were any doubt that he would move in when December fifteenth rolled around. Trust Aziraphale to try playing hard to get, and utterly failing at it. But he would let his friend have his fun, because he was enjoying it immensely.
He took hold of Aziraphale’s right hand and brought the palm to his lips. He kissed it, then held their joined hands against his chest. “What I want,” he said, “is six thousand years—well, more than that—forever would be good—but first, I want six thousand years of my friend Aziraphale instead of my hereditary enemy that I’m not allowed to be friends with.”
“Forever,” Aziraphale whispered. “That sounds like something I can give you, my dear. As for my friend, well, we’re well into that stage now, aren’t we?”
“Mm-hm.” Crowley kissed the top of Aziraphale’s head. “Also, I’d like to go to an antique car rally this weekend.”
“Ah. I might have known there would be an addendum.”
“You did ask.”
Aziraphale briefly tightened his embrace. “I did. And I should like very much to accompany you to the car show.”
“There will be food.”
“There had better be.” Aziraphale took their still-joined hands and kissed Crowley’s fingertips. “I do love you.”
“Now, now, don’t rush things.”
“Taking me to task.”
“I wasn’t.” Crowley grinned. “I’m having fun.”
Aziraphale smiled. “Yes, you are, aren’t you? I like to see you relaxed. It suits you.”
“Suits both of us, Angel.”
They stayed on the sofa for another hour, just cuddling, with a fleeting kiss now and then.
Crowley found it ever so rewarding, and ever so full of promise for the next two months to come.
November rolled in with blustery, rainy days.
There were fewer strolls in the park, and more restaurant outings. They went to more art galleries, and to museums, and to the theatre. Crowley wound up spending more evenings at the bookshop now, where there was a lot of what Aziraphale preferred to call “light petting.”
Crowley relaxed more and more. He had never felt so calm, nor had he ever enjoyed being patient so much as he did during these soft, sweet days and nights.
But he was running out of things with which to entice Aziraphale out on dates. There were only so many galleries, museums, and theatres, and they had tried out dozens of new restaurants.
Then one day he spied a poster for a grand ball which would happen, appropriately, on November fifteenth. At the bottom he spotted a rainbow-colored flag. Perfect. With a snap of the fingers, two tickets appeared in his hand.
“A ball!” Aziraphale was delighted at the prospect. “Why, it’s been so long since I danced.” His brow puckered. “Such a pity the gavotte went out of style.”
“It will be a mix of older styles and newer. There will be waltzes. You can handle that.” Crowley could handle it as well. He had learned the waltz in Vienna, back when it first became the rage.
“Formal wear,” Aziraphale noted.
“White tux for you, Angel. Want to go shopping?”
His friend’s eyes brightened. “My. I haven’t purchased a new suit for nearly two hundred years. Yes! We’ll go shopping. Get you into a lovely black tuxedo.” He paused. “Or you know, you could do white, too, so that we match.”
Crowley shuddered. “Brrr. No, thanks.”
“You look lovely in white.”
“Black. I look lovely in black.” They would make a striking pair on the dance floor, he thought. “Come on, Angel.” He clapped his hands. “Let’s go get kitted out.”
The fifteenth came round, and they did make a striking pair in the grand ballroom. The orchestra played a waltz every three or so numbers, and they didn’t miss a single one. After a bit of initial clumsiness from being out of practice, they soon found a rhythm, with Crowley leading.
They glided elegantly round the polished wood floor, somehow—perhaps miraculously—avoiding any interference from the other couples. Crowley felt as if they were in their own little world as they swirled about to the swelling music, oblivious to the crowd. He had eyes solely for Aziraphale, aglow in his white tuxedo beneath the sparkling chandeliers.
During the modern numbers they got flutes of champagne and retired to a long balcony warmed by portable heaters, where starlight shone upon them, where somehow no one else came near them, where they could stand close together in utter peace and harmony.
“I am having a wonderful night,” Aziraphale said during one of these breaks. He fingered the lapels of Crowley’s tuxedo. “You look so beautiful.”
Crowley quirked an eyebrow. “Beautiful?” Not a description he was used to hearing. He shook his head. “Angels are beautiful. I’m not—”
“Hush.” Aziraphale put two fingers to Crowley’s lips. “Don’t tell me what you aren’t. Because I know what you are.” He set his champagne on top of the balcony’s wide stone balustrade.
“Don’t go sentimental on me, Angel.” Crowley set his glass down as well, and took Aziraphale into his arms.
“Why not? We’ve been dancing as if we were merged as one, and we’ve had champagne, and we’re on a balcony under a starry sky. When is there a better time?”
“Don’t know.” Crowley felt a sudden yearning well up from deep within. No one had ever called him beautiful. Could it really be true? He wanted to lean into Aziraphale’s soul, he wanted to touch his heart, he wanted to feel the fire within. Why was his vision going blurry…he loved Aziraphale so damned much…slowly, oh so slowly and oh so perfectly.
He felt amazed. Those were tears in his eyes.
Aziraphale nestled his cheek against Crowley’s. “What you are, my love, is passionate. Heartfelt. Ardent. You are full of life and you live broadly and boldly, with unfeigned emotions.” He raised his head. “Look at you.” He brought a hand up to brush the tears from Crowley’s cheeks. “I’ve seen you cry before. Many times—every time the ineffable plan took the lives of the innocent. And I’ve seen you shout with joy, and I’ve seen you scream in anger, and I’ve watched you gape in wonder, and I’ve seen you live. When I say you are beautiful—yes, I do find your physical form most attractive—but what I say too is that your soul is beautiful, and you cannot tell me otherwise. I know.”
Crowley choked back a sob. “I’m not. I can’t be.”
“If you aren’t, then neither am I.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You’re an angel.”
“As far as I’m concerned,” Aziraphale said, “So are you.” He placed his hands on either side of Crowley’s face, and drew him into a kiss.
This was no light touch.
Their lips met in a fervent exploration, and Crowley tasted a hint of champagne, and then he pushed harder into the kiss, opening his mouth, willing Aziraphale to do the same. He delved inside, deeply into the warmth and the fire, while lightning flashed through his whole body.
After some time, Aziraphale pressed a hand against his chest, and pulled away, eyes closed, breaths coming fast. “No more.”
“Why not….” Crowley touched the angel’s lips. “Not good?”
“Too good.” Aziraphale opened his eyes. “We have a whole month of courting ahead. Shouldn’t we save something for then?”
Crowley laughed. “Not sure I have anything left to give.” That kiss had taken everything out of him.
Aziraphale nodded. “Probably can’t top that, no. Pity.”
“Could just cut the whole thing short. Let me move in now.”
“But we’re having such a good time.” Aziraphale pouted.
“Yeah, we are.” Crowley let go his embrace. He picked up his champagne. “Maybe the third month is the one where the courting couple, having reached the heights of romantic attraction, settle into comfortable habits together.”
“Hm.” Aziraphale retrieved his own glass. “Could be. Wouldn’t want it to turn too dull and routine, though.”
“We have imaginations. We’ll think of ways to liven things up.” Crowley raised his glass. “To December.”
“To the fifteenth of December.” Aziraphale clinked his glass against Crowley’s. They both drank the champagne down to the last drop.
“Now, then,” Crowley said. “I think I hear a waltz starting up.” He held out his arm. “May I have this dance, my dear?”
They did settle into a comfortable routine.
Each day Crowley popped round to the bookshop near lunchtime, and they chose a restaurant together. Afterwards they returned to the bookshop, where they worked on the renovations together. The sitting area grew two times larger, with a bigger sofa and a fireplace. The bookcases were rearranged to make room for a full-sized kitchen with a dining nook.
Crowley brought one houseplant over on each visit.
For dinners they got takeout, and they sat on the sofa in front of the blazing fire, eating and talking, or just keeping a companionable silence. Aziraphale took to reading aloud from a book of romantic poetry. Crowley made noises about sentimentality, but he didn’t really mean it.
Aziraphale knew that, somehow.
Every evening they kissed a little, and cuddled a lot, and lay entangled together until the night drew on, until it got so late that sleep threatened, which was when Aziraphale made Crowley leave, and return to his flat.
He no longer minded. The whole courtship thing had been a revelation to him. The anticipation of seeing Aziraphale each morning after a night away was rather heady. He looked forward to it.
Of course, the fact that there was an end date helped. He truly didn’t believe he could keep on enjoying that expectancy if he didn’t know that soon he would be waking up in the bookshop next to his beloved Angel every single morning.
The courtship had taught him patience, and it had given him a cherished love—one that had stood the tests of time and always would.
When the fifteenth of December rolled around, the snow came.
“Unusual weather we’re having,” he said.
He and Aziraphale chose the Ritz for lunch that special day. It seemed only fitting and proper.
“The forecasters are calling it a freak storm,” Aziraphale replied. “Supposed to snow all day and night. Might shut down the whole city.”
Crowley looked out the restaurant windows at the large fluffy flakes tumbling down. “Probably ought to find a nice, warm, comfortable place to hunker down in after we’re done here. All afternoon and all night long.”
“Someplace like a bookshop?”
“A bookshop that’s also a private residence would be good.”
Aziraphale ate the last bite of his chocolate mousse. He followed it with a sip of wine. “Did you bring the last of your houseplants over?”
“Yup. And my souvenirs, too. Nothing left at the flat that I care about.”
“There might be sleet later tonight.”
“Good thing you put that garage in.”
Aziraphale dabbed at his lips with his serviette. “Indeed.”
Crowley finished the last of his wine. He smiled as he beckoned to a waiter for the bill. “It’s the fifteenth of December, Angel. Maybe there’s something you want to ask me?”
“Yes.” Aziraphale reached across the table to take Crowley’s hand. “Will you move in with me?”
“Think I already have. More or less.”
“Well, all of your things are there, that’s true. Come and keep them company, then.”
Crowley squeezed his hand. “Love to.”
“The courtship was successful, my dear. You have won my heart—though not for the first time.” Aziraphale smiled. “Had I dared take the risk of telling you centuries ago, the fear of being found out would have always accompanied the joy, and I never wanted that. This way, freely, I give you my heart and my love with nothing but joy.”
“Don’t make me cry again, Angel.” Crowley smiled. “You have my love and my heart, too.” He might have said more, but the waiter arrived. He paid the bill, and they headed out.
The streets were already covered with an inch of snow as they drove home. Crowley felt extremely grateful for that new underground garage.
Inside the bookshop Aziraphale got a fire going. They settled in on the new sofa, lying against a bank of oversized pillows.
“Ten days until Christmas,” Aziraphale said. “Do you think we should buy a tree, and decorate the place, and buy each other gifts, and be hopelessly domestic and sentimental? I could bake gingerbread in the new kitchen.” He wiggled his fingers. “I’ve been practicing.”
Crowley liked gingerbread. “Bake away.”
“We could make popcorn strings.”
“You wrap them round the tree.”
“Oh. Odd thing to do. You don’t eat them?”
“Well, I don’t. You can if you like.”
Crowley shrugged. “Whatever. Fine. We’ll have a tree. We’ll put perfectly edible popcorn around it. We’ll eat the gingerbread, I hope?”
“Yes, we will eat the gingerbread.”
“That’s all right, then.” Crowley draped an arm round Aziraphale’s shoulders. He looked into his eyes, at the flickering firelight reflected there. “I can be domestic.” He kissed Aziraphale’s forehead. “I like having a real home.”
“I rather made you work for it, didn’t I?” Aziraphale turned and curled into him.
“Yeah, you did. I didn’t mind.”
“Not even a little bit?”
“The waiting made the reward a lot sweeter, Angel.”
Aziraphale leaned in for a quick kiss. “If you truly want to watch that television of yours, or listen to that bebop noise, we can put in a soundproof room for your very own.”
“Yes. And I’ve seen you eyeing those advertisements for an animation festival. We can go together, if you like.”
Crowley brightened. His friend was willing to compromise, as true friends did. “Thanks, Angel. That means a lot.”
They spent the rest of the afternoon and evening there. Crowley dozed for a while. Aziraphale read from his book of romantic poetry. They watched the increasing snowfall. At dinner time it was clear that the streets were becoming impassable, so Aziraphale put his new culinary skills to work.
“Spaghetti?” Crowley watched the angel boil water for the pasta, and heat up a jar of ready-made sauce. “Quite challenging, that.”
“Be quiet, you.” Aziraphale wiped his hands on his apron. “I’ll get there eventually. Good things take time and patience.”
Crowley fetched the plates and silverware. “You’ve convinced me of that. Is there any garlic bread?”
“Sorry, I’m afraid not. Oh, but I picked up some tiramisu yesterday, so at least we’ll have dessert.”
“I like dessert best.”
“I’m well aware of that. Not sure I should bother cooking for you at all, the way you eat. Or rather, don’t eat.”
Crowley took down two wine glasses. “I like to nibble. Just make smaller portions.” He went to examine the wine rack. “Huh. Thought you had a Cabernet.”
“Zinfandel it is, then.” He took out the bottle and went about setting the table.
Their dinner was simple, and the pasta was a trifle overcooked, but as it was the first dinner as a couple in their very own home together, neither of them complained.
The wine helped.
Crowley lent a hand when Aziraphale cleaned up, because the angel enjoyed doing things like that the old-fashioned human way, and Crowley found that endearing. Then they banked the fire, and headed upstairs to the bedroom.
After changing into pyjamas, they stood for a while at the window, watching big white snowflakes cascading down. Deep drifts were already forming against the shop doorways, and the streets were empty of cars and pedestrians. It was eerily quiet, until Crowley heard the distant rumble of a snowplow.
“Think any restaurants will be open tomorrow?” he asked.
Aziraphale shook his head. “I have bread, and a few croissants. Some eggs, and cheese. We’ll manage something.” He drew the drapes closed. “I’m much better at making breakfast, I promise.”
They climbed into the oversized four-poster bed, Aziraphale on the right side, Crowley on the left.
“Are you going to take up sleeping?” Crowley turned onto his side to face the angel. “Thought you didn’t care for it.”
Aziraphale lay on his back, arms folded across his chest. “I believe it may have some merit, if one has the right company.”
Crowley shifted closer, and slid his arm around Aziraphale, who unclasped his hands to move into a mutual embrace. “I do my best.” And he had done his best, these past three months, to show his dearest friend how much he cared. “Not my strong suit, you know—taking things slowly, being careful.”
“You don’t need to change for me.” Aziraphale kissed his cheek. “I like your fiery emotions—it’s quite exciting. Well, at times, anyway. Don’t turn into someone you’re not. I love who you are.” He cupped Crowley’s chin. “I do enjoy how attentive you’ve been. That isn’t new—you’ve always been attentive to me—just too quickly, too hurried, because it was too risky for you and me to be slow and careful with each other. But now we can be.”
“I know,” Crowley whispered. “I figured that out.” Then he let Aziraphale draw him into a long, sweet kiss, a slow kiss full of care and tenderness. No, going slow had never been his style…out of necessity, and out of fear. As he kissed his Angel, Crowley yearned to stretch out this drowsy caress, to ease into each touch lazily. He had no reason to rush anything anymore, not ever, not with the one he loved, the one he was—at last—allowed to love every minute of every hour of every day.
They kissed for a long time, engaged in a delightfully leisurely exploration, until sleepiness set in.
Crowley yawned and stretched. “Aziraphale….”
“Yes, my dear?”
“I don’t want to stop this.”
“Hm? Thought you were going to sleep—”
“No, I mean, the courtship. I want to keep bringing you flowers.”
“Oh? Even though I’ve already given you my heart?”
“Even more so. I want to bring you chocolates. And I want to keep asking you out on dates.”
“That sounds ever so nice.” Aziraphale curled round him, and rested his head on Crowley’s chest. “I should like to do the same for you.”
Crowley held him tenderly. He yawned again, and closed his eyes. “Blue flowers would be good.”
“And I like those chocolates with the liqueur inside.”
Crowley felt the night steal drowsily around him as he murmured, “And there’s this special behind-the-scenes tour coming up at the zoo….of the reptile house….”
“Mm-hm….” Aziraphale yawned. “Sleep….go to sleep.”
A shadowy softness thoroughly cocooned Crowley as he drifted off, into the most loving slumber he had ever had, into dreams where he soared through the starlit night with an angel beside him, with clouds of sparkling snowflakes floating all around them in slow circles…so slowly, ever so slowly keeping them safe—keeping them steady—and keeping them together.