Aziraphale took a sip of his wine while he regarded the sea of dancers that ebbed and flowed in the grand, high-ceilinged ballroom.
From the side, of course.
While Aziraphale appreciated the finely choreographed precision of over a hundred pair of dancers stepping and gliding their way through an endless stream of minuets, he had absolutely no inclination to participate in any of the dances. He was content to watch, and enjoy a glass of fine wine.
The Upper Assembly Rooms in Bath were a place to see and be seen—especially during the height of the Season—and Aziraphale had decided that he would attend one of the weekly balls and see how young George Brummell was faring. Under Aziraphale's sometime tutelage, the young man had enjoyed an extremely successful first Season the previous year. The angel admired the elegant, understated way Brummell dressed, and encouraged him in his quest to become the 'most fashionable man in London.' Taking extra care not to crease his cravat, Aziraphale craned his neck to peer over the minueting mass in hopes of spotting Brummell.
No such luck. Aziraphale knew the young man was attending this evening's ball, so he would be patient and continue to enjoy watching the dances.
Bath wasn't London, and the Assembly Rooms here were by no means Almack's, but Aziraphale much preferred the slower pace and statelier surroundings of Bath. He decided that he would make time during his stay to visit the Roman baths for a nice soak—of course, the baths themselves were but a ghostly shadow of their former glory, Roman or otherwise, but the hot mineral water still felt lovely.
"My, my, someone's looking very pleased with themselves."
Aziraphale recognized the voice, as well as the amber-and-spice scent of cologne that wafted his way, and he felt the warm puff of Crowley's breath against his ear. "I'm surprised you're here, Crowley," he said. "I would have thought you'd be in London, at Almack's." He wasn't surprised, not really; he had spotted Crowley at a few balls in London in the company of both Brummell and the Prince of Wales, and Aziraphale knew he would run into the demon when the two famous friends had announced they would spend a few weeks of early spring in Bath.
"You thought no such thing," Crowley retorted. "You knew I would probably be here, and you came prepared to get in my way."
Aziraphale smiled against the rim of his wineglass. "See a wile, thwart it, I always say. "
"Bah. You're much too serious, angel. But I must admit, you look very elegant this evening… this era's fashions suit you. That's a very nicely done combination of ivory, cream, and fawn you're wearing, and I'd wager that waistcoat of yours is French watered silk."
"Thank you," Aziraphale replied, brushing an imaginary bit of dust from the wavy patterned fabric of his cream-colored waistcoat. "It is indeed watered silk, from Burgundy. I had it made for this Season." The last decade had been a pleasant one; men's fashion was finally moving away from the silly fripperies of the past, and nowadays elegance was favored over gaudiness. He took in Crowley's attire. "You look rather splendid yourself, my dear," he commented.
The demon was bedecked in his usual black, but he had mixed a variety of sheens and textures so artfully that it was anything but dull. Crowley's cutaway jacket was a soft, nubby wool, and it was a excellent counterpoint to the muted satin of his waistcoat. His trousers were made of crisp linen, tucked into leather boots that had a brilliant shine. The only white he wore was his cravat, and the starched silk was dazzlingly bright against the darker garments. A red ruby stickpin winked from where it nestled within an impossibly complex array of folds and knots.
He's a dark prince of elegance, Aziraphale thought. A perfect counterpoint to his own study in light. But… something wasn't quite right about that cravat. Aziraphale frowned as he tried to count the amount of times the length of silk was wound around Crowley's throat. "What is that abomination about your neck?"
An arched eyebrow rose from behind the dark, round lenses of Crowley's spectacles. "This is the very latest fashion. Unlike yours," he said, flicking an impeccably manicured fingernail against the single knot in the angel's cravat. "Look at you, not a single crease."
Aziraphale scowled at him. "It's not supposed to have any creases, you saucebox, it's a—"
"Fell, my good man, I was hoping you would be here tonight!"
A hand landed on his shoulder, and Aziraphale blinked at being called by a different name—then he remembered that George Brummell knew him as Ezra Fell. "Of course I would be here," he replied, turning toward Brummell, "if for no other reason than to see if your second Season was going to be as successful as your first." They made cursory bows of greeting.
The young dandy beamed at him. "More successful, I think." He glanced past Aziraphale and his grin widened. "Crowley! You made it here tonight, as well." Brummell looked back and forth between the two immaculately dressed man-shapes. "The two of you are already acquainted? I had thought to introduce you tonight."
Crowley bowed to Brummell. "Oh yes, Mister …Fell and I go back for ages."
Of course Crowley wouldn't bother to change his name, Aziraphale thought. "We are, er, business associates," he said.
"And occasionally rivals," Crowley added, tapping a finger on the side of his nose. "Usually rivals." He waved a hand at Brummell's neck. "Very nicely done cravat, my dear Brummell."
Aziraphale's gaze followed the gesture. Oh, no. Brummell's cravat was done in the same hideous style that Crowley was sporting.
Brummell bowed with a flourish. "I will accept your Spanish coin, good sir. I'm so very glad you showed me this style, Crowley. It's becoming all the rage."
it didn't surprise Aziraphale that any new style that Brummell sported would catch on like wildfire; the young man was fast becoming a major influence on what fashionable men wore. But for it to be Crowley's doing! The angel shot Crowley a very stern look.
Crowley merely grinned.
"You should give it a go, Fell," Brummell told Aziraphale. "I mean, your Oriental is absolutely flawless. It's the best I've ever seen, but it is an… older style." He adjusted one of the myriad folds in the crisp white linen of his cravat. "People are starting to call this 'The Brummell.' I tried to convince Crowley that he should take the credit for the style—he did come up with it—but he insisted that he wanted people to think it was my idea."
"Of course he did," Aziraphale muttered, and he took a very generous sip of his wine. "But I imagine that this new cravat takes a good while to arrange, yes?"
Brummell nodded. "Oh, yes. It takes me upwards of five hours these days to get myself presentable. But it's well worth the effort, and Crowley's had some simply marvelous ideas." He showed Aziraphale his glossy back Hessian boots, which had such a shine that they were almost mirror-like. "Have you every seen such a shine on boots?"
"Er, no," Aziraphale said. He hadn't actually, and he was rather jealous—he could almost see his reflection in the black leather.
"Champagne," Brummell announced gleefully. "Crowley's idea."
Aziraphale gave Crowley a sideways glance and was not surprised to see that the demon's smile had widened. "Champagne! How extravagant."
"Isn't it?" Brummell looked immensely pleased, like a small boy who was showing off his pile of Christmas presents. "You must both please excuse me, there are a few other people I wish to greet before we are called in for tea."
They made their bows, and then Aziraphale and Crowley watched as the young dandy was engulfed in a welcoming, admiring crowd.
Crowley's smile now showed a large quantity of perfectly white, perfectly even teeth. Not counting, of course, the ever-so-slightly-longish canines.
"Now who's looking pleased?" Aziraphale commented tartly.
"Why shouldn't I be pleased? Look at him—everyone here wants to be like George Brummell. I hear that he's acquired the nickname 'Beau.'"
"You've ruined him."
"Oh, come now," Crowley said, "he's a nice mix of both our influences. It's just that I managed to influence him more."
"And thousands of others as well, with the way he's admired. Five hours to dress," Aziraphale grumbled. "Eleventy-billion folds in a cravat. And champagne-polished boots! It's a waste of perfectly good time. And champagne."
"You don't even like champagne," Crowley said.
Aziraphale flapped a hand at him. "It's the principle of the thing," he said. "But it's apparent that you made a conquest."
A bell sounded, signaling that tea was about to be served. The musicians stopped playing, and the room was soon filled with lively chatter as people began to make their way into the Tea Room. "Stop looking so glum, angel, and let's go in for tea. I'm sure I can find something delicious to tempt you with."
"I'm not going to let you tempt me," Aziraphale said.
Crowley stood on tiptoe and peered through the arched entrance of the Tea Room. "Oh look, I think I can see a massive trifle on the desserts table. And is that a blancmange?"
Aziraphale watched him saunter into the Tea Room, and he once more admired the elegant mix of blacks that Crowley wore so effortlessly. The demon did look rather dashing, in spite of his unfortunate taste in neckwear. Aziraphale peered through into the room and saw that there was indeed a blancmange on the far table.
There was also a trifle, and it was enormous.
And it was positively festooned with strawberries.
"Well, perhaps a bite or two..." Aziraphale murmured to himself, and then he walked over to the doorway and eased himself into the queue. He'd have a bit of a treat, he told himself, but he would wait until Crowley wasn't looking.
It would never do for the demon to find out he'd made two conquests.