"Then he said," Crowley raised his voice into a higher, stuffy tone and elevated his chin, "'He is handsome enough, but too tainted to tempt me." He dropped back to his normal voice and scoffed. "Then he sulked around looking right miserable while everyone else enjoyed themselves dancing. What a joke."
Ligur and Boldog obliged him by laughing, taking his story and running with it, declaring that they had never met an angel more disagreeable and less charitable. Even Rimmon chimed in that the least Aziraphale could have done was engage Crowley in conversation, if opposed to dancing.
"Ah ha! But that would require him to be in a 'mood to deal with my pandering', as he put it."
Rimmon frowned, "What an entirely conceited fellow. As if he couldn't have made a mistake and almost fall."
Silence descended on the room, none of them wanting to contemplate own individual mistakes that put them in their current predicament. Kafziel, ever the peace maker and comforter, cleared his throat.
"All-in-all it was a lovely evening."
Ligur clearly couldn't help himself. "It certainly was for you, wasn't it? Aiwendil could hardly take his eyes off you and even Curumo admitted you were pleasant."
Kafziel blushed but stayed steadfast. "I hope to continue my acquaintance with them. Aiwendil mentioned coming to the next of our local gatherings."
Crowley smiled at both Aiwendil's implied approval and Kafziel's restrained acknowledgement of it. He raised his glass. "To Kafziel, may you grab his heart and rise above us."
The rest shouted "hear, hear" and lifted their glasses. Kafziel opened his mouth to protest but Crowley shook his head subtly. They downed their glasses and went off to their own pursuits.
Crowley was on the roof reading and gazing at the stars later when Kafziel came looking for him, shutting the door firmly behind him.
"You do realize comments like that encourage Ligur and Boldog in their fantasies, don't you?"
"It isn't a total fantasy when Aiwendil so clearly liked you."
"Imagining that it might come to a marriage based on one night's acquaintance is, Crowley."
"Are you saying you didn't like him? And don't give me what you said out there about him being pleasant. Tell me what you really think."
Kafziel spoke slowly, as if carefully choosing his words. "I think he is what a principality should be. He was good-humoured, lively, idealistic about what God's creations can accomplish, and sympathetic to their needs."
"Yes," Crowley drawled. "He was certainly likeable. But that doesn't tell me what you thought of him as a partner for yourself."
"No. Don't try to fill my head with the same fantasies as Ligur and Boldog Crowley. It was one night's acquaintance with a pleasant angel, that is all. You shouldn't be encouraging them or me to dream beyond reasonable expectations."
Crowley opened his mouth to argue but closed it when he saw Kafziel's expression. Though mild-mannered, Kafziel had been a soldier before he almost fell and it showed occasionally. Crowley rarely tried to argue with him. He went back to perusing his book. "They know our situation as well as you and I do. What is the harm in letting them daydream?"
Kafziel answered weakly, "It gives them unrealistic expectations?"
"They have those whether I encourage them or not."
Kafziel was silent but didn't leave. After a couple of minutes Crowley put his book down and patted the section of roof next to him. The two of them laid down, looking at the celestial fresco in companionable silence.
"Would you marry to raise back up Crowley? Without affection and respect for your partner?"
He snorted. "Considering I almost fell for asking questions, I doubt a partner I did not respect would have any power to keep me in line."
"Be serious. Ligur and Boldog might not realize it, but our circumstances are quite desperate. You know the Lord's edict was that we would be cast out if we do not marry. While that is one concern, you and I both know we are unlikely to have any standing in Heaven ever again unless we marry well."
Crowley sighed. His voice was weighed down by the damnation inherent in his honest answer. "Even after experiencing Lucifer's fall for those few moments, I would rather fall from Heaven into the sulfuric pit than marry someone I didn't love and respect."
Kafziel didn't answer right away. His voice was quiet when he finally did. "I think I would as well."
"You'll never have to face that choice. If one of us has a chance to catch someone's eyes with a beautiful form and angelic spirit it is you."
Kafziel smiled and made a quiet sound acknowledging the compliment. "Someone will come along who appreciates your quick wit and desire to understand the world the Lord has created Crowley."
Crowley stayed silent, not wanting to upset Kafziel by disagreeing. They stayed on the roof in silence looking at the stars, both silently hoping they were right about each other's fortunes in the future
Aiwendil was not the wisest or the most gifted of the principalities being sent out to the worlds the Lord had created. In fact, he had only risen to his position by the request of Uriel, who had petitioned he be assigned to Gabriel's forces. To that end, Uriel begged Curumo to take Aiwendil as part of his team to the Middle World. Those who knew Aiwendil best though questioned how well he would thwart demonic wiles and whether he was entirely more likely to be distracted by the wonders of the world.
Curumo thought him a simple-minded fool, but that did not stop him from supervising Aiwendil to curry favour with the higher-ranks. He also saw how Aiwendil's nativity and innocence would lead him to follow Curumo blindly.
Between Aiwendil and Aziraphale there existed a great friendship built on mutual trust and respect, though they differed significantly in temperament. Where Aziraphale preferred his books and gentle walks, Aiwendil preferred adventures in the wilderness. Aiwendil was always ready to be pleased by others, while Aziraphale often assumed the worst. So were their impressions in the aftermath of the party. Aiwendil thought everyone pleasant, regretful of their past decisions, and exhibiting genuine friendliness without any underlying motivation. Aziraphale had seen a room of people with questionable loyalty and ambiguous intentions.
Curumo was more inclined to agree with Aziraphale but saw no point in correcting Aiwendil. He privately thought that it would save him some trouble if Aiwendil's naivety got the best of him while in Heaven and saved Curumo the bother of managing him later.
The one thing they could all agree on, was that it was puzzling that Kafziel was among the almost-fallen at all. He was very clearly pious and practically God's design of an angel. So how had he almost fallen? They speculated, but all seemed unlikely. Amongst the party guests, they all agreed he was most worth continuing an acquaintance with. Crowley was also allowed to be pleasant and seemingly repentant. Given this positive interpretation, Aiwendil felt he had permission to think of Kafziel as he liked.
Over the next few gatherings the two parties had the opportunity to form a better picture of each other. The higher ranked angels found Ligur, Rimmon, and Boldog wearisome and tried to avoid them, but confirmed their first impressions of Crowley and Kafziel as good company.
Crowley was less easily impressed with them. Aiwendil he liked, but much in the same way he would like any well-intentioned individual. His naïve idealism worried Crowley as Kafziel and him grew closer. Kafziel had more common sense than he let on, but his desire to see the good in everyone made him easy to lead astray. Aiwendil was much the same and he was unlikely to safeguard Kafziel if they reached an understanding. Crowley would rather burn in hell than let Kafziel's optimistic nature be taken advantage of again, but equally so before taking this chance to move back up away from him. So, he watched with worried eyes and kept his concerns to himself.
He found Curumo to be imperious and so focused on his own position that he reminded Crowley of many of Lucifer's former lieutenants. When all was said and done it had been revealed that most of them stood with Lucifer solely to gain their own share of power over creation. Crowley watched Curumo spitefully assess the connections and worth of all he encountered and wondered that Curumo had not been among them.
His impression of Aziraphale did not approve upon acquaintance either. While he would admit that he was far more angelic than Curumo in his respect for God and disinterest in power, he otherwise appeared to embody the worst of angelic traits. He cared not for the good opinion of anyone but the Lord and appeared to pass harsh judgement upon all he encountered. He was aloof, self-righteous, and disparaging. No, Crowley reassured himself. Even if he had not insulted me, I would have disliked him.
Despite Crowley's misgivings about their acquaintances, he was delighted to see Kafziel happy. He was so busy observing Aiwendil and Kafziel interact, that it took a couple gatherings for him to notice that Aziraphale almost always attended the same conversational circle as him. Aziraphale rarely said anything, but once Crowley realized it he was unnerved by the constant presence. Never more so than when he got pulled into a rather foolhardy debate.
Ankeriel was hosting a small party of intimate friends, though he invited the principalities for Kafziel's sake. Lulled into a sense of security by the semi-privacy of the event, Crowley got into a spirited debate with Dagon.
"It is a simple concept Dagon. If the Lord is all-powerful and all-knowing, then she allowed Lucifer to defy her. She allowed Lucifer to fall and for evil to be borne into the world. There is nothing else to it."
"Yet God is all-good. How could she have allowed evil to exist, let alone grow?"
Crowley opened his mouth to ask who said God was all-good and question who exactly was defining good in the first place, when Aziraphale spoke. Crowley nearly jumped at his voice, cursing himself for forgetting they were not entirely among friends.
"Well, it is ineffable, isn't it? Contributing to the long-term Greater Good?"
Crowley looked at him, eyes narrowing. "Look around Angel." The acerbity he used with the term angel could cut. "Do you really think Lucifer's rebellion contributed to any Greater Good?"
Aziraphale coloured and started fussing with this jacket. Finally, he weakly said, "We are all angel's here."
"Some just more so than others, right?"
Aziraphale stood straighter, pulling his virtue around him like a shield. "You say the Great Plan. But is it that the Ineffable Plan? The Ineffable Plan is precisely that, ineffable. We are not meant to understand it. Perhaps there is some good consequence to all of this. We are not meant to question it."
"You are rather severe on us."
"Crowley." Dagon's tone was reproachful. "I think you should check and see if you or Rimmon are starting tonight's entertainment."
Crowley forced himself to calm down and answered evenly, "Certainly." He swept off.
It was just as well that it was his night to begin. Crowley would never grace the heavenly choir with his voice or golden harps, but his prowess with a fiddle served him well for gatherings like these. It also gave him an excuse to be unsociable for a bit. Rimmon would take over on the pianoforte eventually, but for now he had an hour's respite.
The first tune was simple and slow, just the thing to have him warm-up and bring people to the dance floor. When he saw Aiwendil ask Kafziel for a dance he chose a sweeping romantic number, ignoring Kafziel's warning look. By the third dance, it was time for him to have fun.
The music changed to something faster, lighter, livelier. Before long the floor was filled with couples dancing to the spirited reels. Crowley heard the shrieking laughter of Ligur and saw Kafziel's exuberant smile as he spun. Crowley grinned in response, selecting an even faster song for his last. He finished with a flourish and bowed dramatically to his clapping audience, exhausted but his exhilarated grin still in place. As he stood back up him and Aziraphale, who had the queerest expression, locked eyes, causing Crowley's smile to dim.
"Capital Crowley!" Ankeriel exclaimed. "You take a break and let's have Rimmon take his turn."
Crowley gladly acquiesced, putting down his violin and stepping aside. He accepted a drink and praise from Ankeriel. They engaged in idle chit chat as the more sedate strains of piano medley began to drift through the hall and the couples went back to more dignified dances.
Ankeriel turned and addressed someone behind Crowley, "Do you enjoy dancing Aziraphale? Certainly your friend has a passion for it."
Crowley started, not having realized the angel had joined them. He glanced over his left shoulder and there he was though. Crowley felt a flicker of annoyance at this frankly bizarre behaviour.
"Aiwendil is my superior in this I am afraid. I take to it like a duck to merchant banking." Crowley barely had a second to wonder what that meant.
"That cannot be! An angel of your stature? Come, dance with Crowley then. As I said when you met, he is a fine dancer and can make any partner look good."
Ngk. Crowley interjected. "It sounds like Aziraphale has no desire to dance Ankeriel. Nor do I have any intention of dancing."
The angel's voice was quiet. "It would be my honor to stand-up with you."
Crowley turned to look at Aziraphale, disbelief evident. He couldn't name the angel's exact expression, but it wasn't enthusiasm or pleasure. The angel probably couldn't think of a polite way to excuse himself from dancing. Luckily for him, Crowley was fully prepared to release him from the obligation.
"I am afraid I still need some respite after my performance. Some other time." He turned to Ankeriel. "We should find your husband and let him know that Rimmon has nearly completed his set."
The two of them nodded to Aziraphale and walked off, though Aziraphale could still hear a quiet "Why did you do that?" from Ankeriel, but he didn't hear Crowley's reply. Regardless of Crowley's reasons for turning him down, he wished they could have continued the discussion about the Lord's plan from earlier, as he had been about to suggest. His thoughts were interrupted by Curumo slinking up to him.
"Tired of this rabble for the evening already Aziraphale? Shame on you, we are meant to love all of God's creation." Curumo's voice dripped with mockery of the idea, making Aziraphale's skin crawl. Whatever had possessed Gabriel to promote Curumo to taking care of any portion of God's creation was beyond Aziraphale's understanding.
"You mistake me entirely."
"Oh? Are you not wondering how the Lord decided to extend a second chance to those of such little talent and little worth to Heaven? Our time could be so much better spent amongst more exalted company."
Aziraphale's anger at such blatant misunderstanding of God's relationship to his children prompted him to be more candid than he otherwise would be. "Your conjecture is entirely wrong, I assure you. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of an intelligent and passionate angel can bestow."
Curumo did a double-take, almost visibly trying to twist Azriaphale's statement into a compliment to himself. "Oh? And what passionate angel may that be?"
Aziraphale fought his blush. "Crowley."
"Crowley?" Curumo probed, before he turned mocking once more. "That is a surprising turn. Are you quite certain you can overlook his lesser status? You will have such charming companions." He sent a loaded look towards Ligur.
Aziraphale fidgeted with his coat, trying not to show how ruffled he felt by the whole thing. "I quite assure you it was a momentary observation. That is all. Excuse me."
He joined one of the card tables being set up, quite grateful for the distraction.