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Midnight in the Garden

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Dinner at the Ritz was an extravagant and leisurely affair. Aziraphale wanted to try every new item on the menu (he was especially overcome by the scallops in corn milk, and again by the salted caramel pannacotta), and Crowley was content to soak up champagne like a tall and angular sponge. But Aziraphale finally put down his fork after his third dessert and sighed. "Dear me. I suppose the time has come."

Crowley, whose sprawl had become more and more horizontal as the meal progressed, blinked and looked around, a bit dazedly. "Already?"

"Crowley, we've been here for four hours."

"The night is young! And we're celebrating!" he protested, though the hour in fact had grown quite late. But he let Aziraphale convince him to stand up and weave his way to the front door. Outside, the summer night was soft and slightly cool on their flushed faces. They rolled the windows of the Bentley down, and Aziraphale closed his eyes and let the breeze wash over him as Crowley drove them to the bookshop. The world felt as young and full of promise as though it had only been born that morning; Aziraphale was suddenly reminded of that first day in the Garden, the scent of apple blossoms wafting past. The relief of their victory mingled in his stomach with unexpected dread at the thought of saying goodnight, of cutting this evening short.

So he didn't. Instead, when they reached the shop, he turned to Crowley and said, "Fancy another drink?"

Soon enough they were ensconced in the shop's somewhat disreputable back room, where priceless folios from the sixteenth century coexisted with unpaid bills from the twenty-first and several very refined bottles from the nineteenth. Aziraphale filled the two glasses that were always on the side table and handed one to Crowley, who had kicked his legs up over the side of a squashy armchair.

"So," he asked, "have you given any thought to what comes next?"

Crowley raised his glass. "We celebrate!"

"No, I mean after the celebrating," Aziraphale explained.

"Well, I don't know about you, angel, but I intend to celebrate for quite a long time. Ten years sounds about right, don't you think? I know," Crowley said, and he leaned forward, suddenly intent. "Let's travel. See how the world is getting on. You can visit all your favorite restaurants!"

Aziraphale's eyes lit up. "Oh my. Now that is a marvellous idea," he said. They'd never travelled much together, but they had always seemed to run into each other regularly in all sorts of places. Aziraphale supposed it had to do with certain times and places being inflection points, where divine or demonic intervention could have an outsize effect.[1] "Do you remember that shop in Bangkok that had the most heavenly khao pad sapparod? With the views of the river and the garden out back?"

"I remember when you couldn't stop banging on about the squash blossoms in Oaxaca."

Aziraphale sighed happily. "Oh yes, they were simply lovely. You were quite fond of the local mezcal, if I'm not mistaken." Crowley pulled a face, perhaps less enchanted by the memory of the mezcal itself and more recalling the terrific hangover he'd had the next day. "And we must see if we can find that pudding shop in Istanbul again!" Aziraphale continued, undaunted. "There were so many varieties I didn't get to try last time. And do you know how long it's been since I've had proper soup dumplings?"

Crowley gazed at Aziraphale fondly, if a bit blurrily. "Do you know what I like best about you?" he drawled. "You're such a hedonist. I don't think any other angel has ever loved the pleasures of the flesh as much as you do."

Aziraphale sputtered, "Oh come now, Crowley. What are you talking about? Pleasures of the flesh--what nonsense."

"Would you prefer to call it ‘indulging in carnal delights,' then?"

"I most certainly do not--"

"But you do! Look at how much you love to eat. You'll try anything."

"Well, yes, but-- but that's different from... well, you know."

Crowley waggled his eyebrows. "Oh, I do know."

Aziraphale rolled his eyes. "Oh yes, I'm sure you do." He gave Crowley a quick glance, then looked away. "As I was saying, er, shall we visit Brazil again? I've been dreaming of those orange cakes we had for breakfast there ever since we left..." He trailed off, aware of Crowley's eyes on him.

The moment stretched out between them, until Crowley asked, "Haven't you ever...?"

"Good heavens, no."

"Why not?" He sounded genuinely surprised.

"I'm an angel, Crowley! You know we don't go in for that. It's so... undignified."

Crowley waved a hand dismissively. "Oh, you're hardly an angel anymore. Bunch of joyless bastards anyway," he sneered. "Listen, you don't know what you're missing."

Aziraphale peered at him. "Have you really--?"

"A few times, sure. Purely out of professional interest, of course." He cocked an eyebrow. "Wanted to see what all the fuss was about."

Aziraphale experienced a brief internal struggle, but in the end he couldn't stop himself from asking the question: "And what did you think?" Relieved to hear that it came out sounding properly distant, he studied his glass and carefully did not look at Crowley. It's the wine doing the talking, he told himself.[2]

Crowley considered him for a moment. "Do you really want to know?"

Aziraphale felt suddenly rather out of his depth. His fingers itched to straighten his bowtie, but instead he lifted his chin and said, "Well, I suppose you may have piqued my curiosity somewhat."

A grin slowly spread across Crowley's face. "Come here and I'll show you," he purred, patting the arm of his chair.

"What?!" Surely he was joking. Wasn't he? Aziraphale studied Crowley, but the look on his face didn't seem to be teasing. Still, it was out of the question. "No, no, my goodness, no."

"Oh, come on! You'll like it, I promise."

"Ha! Rather full of yourself, aren't you?"

"No, I mean it," Crowley said. "Give it a try, why don't you? Just a kiss, nothing more."

Aziraphale thought about it for a minute, then gave him a small, nervous smile. He had to confess to a flicker of interest. Humans did spend so much of their time and energy on this particular pastime, after all, as Aziraphale had learned not only from his own observations, but also from the copious romance novels he had accumulated over the years,[3] and Crowley did usually know what sort of... indulgences he would enjoy. "How you tempt me, Crowley."

"I try to, anyway," the demon said, sounding mildly affronted. "Go on, live a little, angel."

"...Oh, all right, then," Aziraphale said. "But on one condition." It wouldn't do to cede too much of the upper hand to Crowley, after all.

Crowley let out an exasperated huff. "Which is?"

"That you dance with me first."

"Oh, come on!"

"I'm serious, Crowley. If you want to-- kiss me"--and here Aziraphale nearly stumbled over the words, but managed to keep going--"I'd like you to dance with me first."

"I didn't-- I don't--" Crowley began to bluster, then changed tactics: "I'm just trying to do something nice for you, and look where it gets me!"

"Well, that's my offer, then. Take it or leave it."

"Fine, fine, all right," Crowley muttered. "Let's get it over with."

"My dear, you flatter me too much," Aziraphale replied tartly as he set down his glass. He knew Crowley was just trying to get a rise out of him, but he couldn't help feeling a bit indignant. Hadn't this whole thing been Crowley's idea in the first place? Certainly Aziraphale wasn't going to press the issue if Crowley kept up his protests. But when he looked up, he saw that Crowley was standing in the center of the room, waiting for him.

Aziraphale allowed a smile to cross his face. He snapped his fingers, and the gramophone, which had been playing his favorite recording of Couperin's trio sonatas, began to pump out the jubilant opening notes of "In the Mood."

"Oh, that's rich," Crowley grumbled, but without any real heat.

Aziraphale went to him, and after a moment's awkward negotiation, he arranged Crowley's hand on his shoulder and placed his own hand lightly at Crowley's waist, feeling a giddy rush sweep through him at the touch. Their faces were so close that he was aware of Crowley's breath on his own cheek, though he tried not to look too long into his eyes, which carried an expression he couldn't read. How strange and familiar it felt, all at once! They had always carefully avoided this sort of contact before now, but perhaps in this new world, the boundaries had shifted. Perhaps what was once unthinkable was now simply... untried.

Aziraphale began to bob and sway to the music, shuffling his feet in what he felt sure was a very smooth and rhythmic motion, and guiding Crowley to do likewise with gentle pressure. Though Aziraphale's enthusiasm for dancing far outstripped his knowledge or talent, still he had attended enough weddings, balls, village fêtes, and discreet gentlemen's clubs over the years to pick up a step or two, and in truth, he wasn't half bad if he didn't try anything fancy. (Of course, Aziraphale loved to try fancy things, but he was aware that tonight it was best to stick to the basics.) For his part, Crowley mostly managed to follow along, a few trodden toes notwithstanding. What he lacked in rhythm he made up for with a sinuous grace that lent his movements a liquid quality, one step flowing seamlessly into the next.

Aziraphale remembered the rubble of a church in 1941, and the lump in his throat he hadn't been able to dislodge afterwards. He remembered Crowley tapping down the aisle toward him, a vision in black, burning his feet to cinders as he came.

Dancing with him, it turned out, wasn't as strange as Aziraphale might have imagined (if he had ever imagined it). Yes, this sort of extended proximity to each other was new, but hadn't they been enacting a kind of dance together for centuries now, one stepping forward while the other stepped back? Dipping and turning, coming apart, coming together? And yet it was undeniably unnerving to be so close to Crowley, to to feel the warmth of him under Aziraphale's fingers, to see the depth in his unblinking golden eyes. It made Aziraphale's blood sing in his veins, and he was not at all sure that he was up to the task that was to follow. But as the last notes of the song echoed around them, he looked up at Crowley's mouth, quirked up in a familiar crooked half-smile, and it settled him a bit.

"So," he said at last (quite bravely, he thought). "How does this work?"

"Oh, you'll figure it out," Crowley said with a wink, and kissed him.

He hadn't expected Crowley to be tender, of all things, but his lips were surprisingly soft against Aziraphale's own, and for a moment, Aziraphale was too overwhelmed by sensation to respond. Then he let out a little sigh of pleasure as he sank into the kiss, giving himself over to it. Crowley's hand on his face was cool, but his mouth was warm, and Aziraphale found he wanted more of it. He opened his mouth, let his tongue lick tentatively into Crowley's mouth, seeking the sweetness there, and was rewarded by a moan from Crowley as his hand snaked around Aziraphale's waist.

Aziraphale clutched at Crowley's shirt with one hand and ran the other through his hair--how had he never realized how good Crowley would feel, how good he would taste? The slide of Crowley's tongue against his was a delicious promise, a new dance to learn, an invitation to explore, to touch, to take. He felt his body growing warm, a hunger inside him making itself known, and sensed an answering heat rising in Crowley.

The kiss lingered, deepened; Aziraphale found himself gripping Crowley's hair to keep them both steady as he grew bolder, more insistent, and he could hear Crowley making small panting noises into his mouth. The scent of Crowley was everywhere, intoxicating. Every part of Aziraphale was alive and shouting. He ran a hand down Crowley's back, pulling him closer. He wanted--

Suddenly, Crowley broke the kiss. He put a hand on Aziraphale's chest, keeping them apart. "Wait," he gasped, and the look on his face was alarming.

"Is everything all right?"

Crowley was breathing heavily. "Wait," he said again. "I don't-- this feels--"

"Oh dear," Aziraphale said, embarrassment creeping in as the sensation of Crowley's lips faded. "Was it me? Did I do something wrong?"

"No," Crowley said, but he wasn't entirely convincing. He wouldn't look Aziraphale in the eyes. "No, you were-- that was-- good, you were--" He broke off. Aziraphale waited for more of an explanation, but none was forthcoming. Awkwardly, he backed away and sat down on the leather sofa, pulse pounding.

"Well," he said at length, trying desperately to sound nonchalant. "That was quite an interesting experience."

"It doesn't usually feel that way," Crowley blurted out.

Aziraphale was nearly incandescent with humiliation. He should never have agreed to the kiss. What on earth had he been thinking? "I'm sorry," he said stiffly. "I've never--"

"I couldn't breathe!"

"Breathe?" Aziraphale stared at him in confusion. "But you don't need to--"

"I know I don't need to breathe!" Crowley snapped, flinging himself back into the armchair. "But I couldn't--" His hands writhed in frustration. "I was all-- all dizzy, felt like my heart was going to explode! Look at me, I'm shaking!"

"Oh," Aziraphale said, his brow creasing. "I must say, I felt rather the same way myself. Is that unusual?"

Crowley glared at him. "Well, I've never felt that before! Didn't know what was happening to me!" He took a deep breath, visibly trying to calm himself.

Aziraphale was silent for a moment as a possibility began to occur to him. He cleared his throat, hesitated, cleared it again, unsure how to say what he was thinking, or whether he should. After all, could he be mistaken? This was new territory, and he was suddenly sure that if he put a foot wrong, the cost might be higher than he could bear. Yet the feeling Crowley had described, he had to admit, was not wholly unfamiliar to him. Hadn't he experienced some semblance of it himself, standing next to the demon that very first day in the Garden?

Somewhere, a church bell began to chime. Midnight.

Finally, staring down at his fingers twisted together in his lap, Aziraphale plucked up his courage and asked, "Is it possible... Well, pardon me for asking, but is it possible that you were feeling... love?"

He expected Crowley to deflect this: a scoff, a pretense of horror or disgust. But there was only silence, and when Aziraphale looked up after a moment, he saw that Crowley wore the stunned look of a man who has just been dealt a great blow to the head and is trying to decide whether to topple forward or backward. He didn't say anything at first, just lifted a trembling hand and passed it over his face, closing his eyes. Finally, he mumbled, almost inaudibly, "Could be."

He sounded defensive, like a cornered creature, and Aziraphale abruptly realized that Crowley was scared. Demons didn't typically feel love, after all, and although Crowley hadn't been properly demonic in a long time, perhaps there were still some experiences that were foreign to him. Aziraphale was a being made of love, and love instinctively made sense to him[4]; but Crowley wasn't used to sensing it, naming it. He could only feel it coursing through his body, shaking him loose, and it terrified him.

And how could Aziraphale fault him? After all, he hadn't been brave enough to name his own feelings before tonight, either; indeed, he had tried to deny them, to explain them away as merely an extension of the angelic love he felt for all creatures. But kissing Crowley tonight had revealed to Aziraphale the extent of his own self-delusion.

He found himself wondering how Eve had felt as she bit into that apple.

Aziraphale approached Crowley slowly; his eyes were still closed, but Aziraphale could guess from the set of his shoulders that he was tense, perhaps even ready to run. Kneeling in front of him, Aziraphale took Crowley's hands in his. Crowley nearly jumped at the touch; his eyes flew open.

"Dance with me," Aziraphale murmured.

He stood, but Crowley made no move to follow, and Aziraphale realized he was going to have to steer this ship into harbor all by himself. He pulled Crowley to his feet and--slowly, so slowly--wrapped his arms around Crowley's back, stroking him, soothing him. The gramophone obligingly began to play "Cheek to Cheek," and Aziraphale began to move them in a gentle sway, until he could feel some of the tension begin to drain out of Crowley's body, and his hands came up to rest on Aziraphale's hips.

"My dear boy," Aziraphale began, before realizing he had no idea what to say. How to explain the enormity of this new understanding? He drew back slightly and looked into Crowley's eyes, for once guileless, even soft. Aziraphale's heart ached. "My dear," he said again, "don't you understand? I feel it too."

At that, Crowley closed his eyes again, and a violent shiver ran through his body. When the tremor subsided, he opened his eyes, and his stare was direct, challenging. "Then why," he growled, "didn't you ever say something? You let me go on about kissing you as though you'd never heard of anything so ridiculous, and all the while you-- you-- wanted it too!"

"Yes, well, er," Aziraphale began casting about for excuses, then rapidly gave up the pretense. What was left to hide? "I didn't know. That is--I didn't understand, truly, until tonight. But I think I have loved you for a long time."

This seemed to mollify Crowley somewhat. "Hmph. Well." His face grew thoughtful as he took this in; then he gave Aziraphale a wicked grin, and the world tilted back onto its familiar axis. "I should have known you wanted me when you called me Asmodeus. Should have kissed you back then, huh?"

Aziraphale huffed, but he didn't really mind the teasing this time. "All right, well, I am prepared to admit that you were quite right about kissing. Shall we, er, try that again?"

* * *

Later, as they lay in a tangle of limbs on the floor of the bookshop's back room (now more disreputable than ever), Aziraphale asked, "Was it really so different, kissing me? Did you really never feel that way with anyone else?"

Crowley gazed up at him, for once not bothering to hide the adoration in his eyes. "Never. Good for a lark, that's all. With you... it was all new. Felt like I might faint, or... I don't know. Fall apart." He shook his head and lay back against the sofa, the very picture of sloth and debauchery. "I should have known you'd be the ruin of me."

"I'll be nothing of the sort, and you know it," Aziraphale protested, but he nestled in against Crowley's shoulder and traced a finger over his hip. "Now. Have we quite settled on our list of restaurants? I've been longing to visit that charming little place in Zanzibar again where we had the octopus curry. And Greece would be just the spot for a picnic, don't you think? Oh, and we might try America this time, you know." He gave Crowley his most diabolical smirk. "I hear they do remarkable things to apples."