Aziraphale didn't have much imagination to speak of.
In the Light, the eastern kingdom in the country of Eden, children weren't raised to create. They were raised to appreciate what already was, to covet what they cherished and spread harmony wherever they could. Harsh words weren't a part of their culture, unhappiness weren't a part of life. Their world was one of cleanliness, prosperity, and unity. Imagination simply wasn't required in paradise, where each individual strived to fulfil their ultimate goal of completing the collective and bettering the world around them.
The world was simple enough to require no conceited effort in pretending to better it. It was that simple.
There was no need for imagination in a world where everyone had everything they needed and nobody wanted for anything... or, at least, that was what Aziraphale had thought up until the annual Grand Ball.
For six generations, the Light and Dark, kingdoms very much at odds who had never known anything other than being at odds, had arranged an elegant masquerade ball in alternating kingdoms in an attempt to appease any growing tensions and put off any thoughts of war. Nothing relaxed a riled, feral beast more than kindness handed over from a firm fist, and the Dark was the most feral of beasts at the best of times. It was a rather beautiful affair, Aziraphale thought.
He'd never been allowed to attend a ball in the Dark, of course. He was a mere peacekeeper stationed in the palace, good for solving minor squabbles but with largely very little to do. It was a quaint task, but one Aziraphale felt he must be very well suited for, since there were very rarely any arguments to be heard in the entire kingdom - at least, that he knew of.
In fact, this was the first year that he'd been allowed to attend in any real manner. He'd previously been stationed around the doors, outside the main ball, left listening to the elegant music drifting from the enormous ballroom. It was far more likely to have to solve an argument on a night where two opposing sides of a feud were forced to meet, especially when alcohol was involved, after all.
This year was different. For the first time, perhaps as a commendation for a particularly quiet year, Aziraphale had been presented with a white, gold-trimmed suit and permitted an entry pass to the festivities. He'd hardly been able to contain his glee, although he'd kept his composure until he was alone in his quarters again. Of course he'd never speak of how he'd practically screamed into his pillow when he was alone.
For the first time, as he took in the room full of swirling couples - the Light in their traditional white-and-gold robes and shimmering veils, and the fascinating Dark in their deep, richly coloured outfits and shadowy, masked faces - Aziraphale had his breath stolen from his lungs.
It wasn't the music, the champagne, not even the delightful tiny bites of food swung delicately around the room every so now and then, although they were truly divine in their own right. No, something quite different had taken Aziraphale's fancy, and it was almost enough to make him politely decline an offer of a tiny speared shrimp glazed with brandy. (Almost).
It was the shadowy stranger lingering on the far side of the room that had really captivated him. The figure was of the dark Dark, that much was clear. He'd donned deep, rich red robes and an intricate fox mask, although for some reason Aziraphale couldn't quite place, he didn't feel like a fox quite suited him. He did not dance with anyone, nor did he move to take any drink or food from any of the passing waiters. Instead, he simply stood by the wall - well, lounged almost seemed more accurate, with the way he held himself. His hands hung loosely in his pockets and his head stayed lowered, although just raised enough to keep an eye on the ongoings of the party.
Aziraphale battled with himself. Some tiny voice in his mind whispered for him to report this, knowing that one of the Dark was refusing to partake in any festivities and instead wait and watch - something which was almost definitely suspicious. However, he found the majority of his will tugging him towards the stranger, begging him to know more, to find out as much as he could. He was almost starving to know the loner's name.
Well, he reasoned with himself. I am a peacekeeper. If he is looking to cause trouble and I diffuse him from doing so... I'd surely just be doing my job? And I did receive an invite to this event, after all...
He found his feet carrying him across the room. He tried to stay close to the edge, although he found the dancing couples proved difficult to avoid and he ended up simply pushing through the crowd, of course with a sleuth of apologies and polite greetings to go along with his rude passing.
The stranger stayed still and silent, the fox mask preventing Aziraphale from knowing where he was looking. He didn't move when Aziraphale walked up to him and politely bowed, extending a hand.
"Pardon me, sir," he smiled. "But would you care to dance?"
The stranger said nothing, instead tilting his head to the side somewhat. His hair was a brilliant russet colour, bound back in a delicate bun and falling in waves down his back. It shifted as he moved. It was captivating.
The silence lingered for a moment longer, before he finally lifted a hand and took Aziraphale's.
"Very well," came his voice, and it almost made Aziraphale lose his balance altogether. His voice was deep and melodic, almost amused, and yet carrying the sincerity of a million generations. His hand was gloved, the velvet warm and comforting against Aziraphale's chilled palm. At least, he desperately hoped it was chilled, although he knew it was far more likely to be clammy with nervous sweat...
If the stranger noticed his damp palms, he said nothing about it. Aziraphale led him into the dancefloor and waited a few moments for the song to end and another to begin. He placed his hand on the stranger's waist, finding him a little too tall to comfortably rest his hand on his shoulder. The stranger politely rested his hand on his shoulder in turn, and let Aziraphale take the lead in this new waltz.
They moved somewhat clumsily for a moment while they got used to each other's rhythms. Aziraphale apologised profusely when he trod on his partner's toes quite by accident, and his stranger responded with a deep, throaty chuckle which immediately put both parties at ease. They moved more gracefully as the dance progressed, learning the length of the other's strides and finding a comfortable middle ground. They spun in circles together, their chests pressed close enough to thrill. The song finished in time but the pair kept dancing, adjusting their tempo as the next began.
The entire time, Aziraphale couldn't keep his eyes off of his partner's masked face. The fox was covered with velvet as well, and adorned with beautiful lace patterns and tiny gemstones. What captivated him most, however, was the eyes peering out through the delicately shaped holes in the mask - they were unlike anything he had ever seen before. Deep amber, almost glowing in the shadow behind the mask, they were hesitant and youthful, heavy-lidded and almost serpentine.
His jaw was sharp and slender, well-framed by those beautiful russet curls, now slightly displaced and a little messy after they'd been twirling for a while. He was angular and yet graceful, dipping to and fro with the music and swaying his hips with ease. He moved with easy sophistication, and all the while, his eyes never left Aziraphale's, either.
It was easy to lose track of the time. Aziraphale abandoned any thought of picking at any more tiny-yet-delightful pieces of food or sipping at any more glasses of champagne, completely giving in to the allure of those eyes. They were deeper than the sea, the colour of honey, and blast it all they wouldn't look away.
The room around them blurred as they spun. Hanging bouquets of roses and hanging chandeliers became nothing but smudged colour fading away into the background, and even the other couples surrounding them grew faded. Their dance belonged to them alone, and Aziraphale wouldn't complain if it lasted until the next sunrise.
As it was, their dance lasted almost an hour. They eventually slowed to a gentle halt, and Aziraphale shyly dropped his hand. He found he wasn't quite ready to finish his time with this stranger, however.
"Would you like to go for a walk?" he asked breathlessly, ignoring the shooting pains in his feet. In fact, both of his legs were protesting at their overuse, but he found he couldn't quite find the willpower within him to care. The stranger smiled beneath his mask and nodded.
"That sounds nice. Is there a garden I'd be welcome in?"
Of course, the Dark's access to the Light was limited. There were rooms they'd been barred from, tunnels they'd been forbidden from using... it was all standard protocol and most certainly necessary to keep the peace.
"Y-yes, of course!" Aziraphale nodded, taking a moment to scour his brain to remember exactly where the Dark had been permitted to wander. "This way..."
His dancing partner followed him, his movements suave and calm. His hands folded right back into his pockets and he moved with a gentle, calm smile on his face. Aziraphale, on the other hand, was all but short of short-circuiting, but he led him through corridors, down stairs, and out to the main gardens overlooking the town.
The night was cool yet not unpleasant, with stars glimmering and a fine crescent moon hanging in the sky. The town glowed a gentle gold, marble streets shining as they perfectly reflected the starlight. The only sound to be heard was the soft rushing of water at the garden fountains and the quiet remnants of music floating down to the gardens from the ballroom above.
A nightingale flitted onto a tree near the pair and chirped in greeting.
"Ahh, I remember this..." the stranger sighed happily. Aziraphale looked at him in surprise.
"You've been here before?"
"Of course," his stranger winked playfully. "I know a lot about this place. Used to- well."
Aziraphale cocked his head curiously.
Disappointment swelled in Aziraphale's chest, but he didn't want to press the matter. He'd had a delightful evening and didn't want to spoil it by offending his stranger. He blushed as he realised he hadn't introduced himself yet.
"I... I'm Aziraphale, by the way. I work here."
"Crowley," his stranger chuckled, offering his hand. "It's nice to meet you."
Aziraphale wrapped his hand around Crowley's once more, shaking it with a soft grin. He did his best to hide how perfectly he felt the name suited this dark stranger.
A chilly breeze swept through the garden, making Aziraphale shiver. Crowley watched him, unaffected by the chill but looking almost curiously down at his dancing partner.
"You look tired," he commented, and only then did Aziraphale realise how true that was. His legs were still crying, pain shooting up from his feet with every step, and his eyelids felt heavy.
"It's been a long night," he admitted. "Although a very pleasant one."
Crowley said nothing to that, merely looking back over the town with his calm smile stretching back over his face. The nightingale sang once more, before it took off, flying down over towards town.
"You'll be heading off tomorrow, then?" Aziraphale asked, regretting it as he realised how it had sounded. It was simply one of many occasions where he wished he could shove his own words back into his mouth.
"Want rid of me so soon?" Crowley asked, his voice thick with a teasing drawl. Aziraphale stammered and blushed, clearly trying to formulate a polite response, but Crowley just laughed it off and shook his head.
"Don't worry, angel. You'll see more of me. I'm sure of it."
So, this was random? The idea for this fic popped into my mind whilst reading "with all your delights" by weatheredlaw on Archive of Our Own! I highly recommend giving it a read - it's highly enjoyable and I couldn't get the idea of a victorian fantasy AU out of my head! And lo, this story was born. Who knows if I'll finish it, really, but I enjoyed writing this chapter! I have a whole plot planned out for it and everything but knowing me I might lose inspiration because I'm just one of those folks I guess. Here's to hoping I finish something!
I also listened to the entire Pan's Labyrinth soundtrack while writing this because oops?
I'd absolutely love to hear your thoughts on this. Thank you for reading :)