AN EQUITABLE ARRANGEMENT
Blurb: After Crowley moves into the bookshop, the pair adjusts to life in the neighborhood.
I wrote this as a continuation of The Renovation and thought I could turn it into a bunch of one-shots before I realized that this story arc is longer than that. Then I chopped the story in half-ish - the first part being this story and the second part being incomplete. I'll post the chapters for this story weekly until it ends. No plans on the second part as it isn't finished and I don't like to start posting until it's all done in case I need to add or change details in earlier chapters to suit what comes later, but I think I picked a good stopping point so it doesn't feel like I'll leave readers hanging.
You don't need to read The Renovation (but you are welcome to) as long as you can accept that this story starts post-Armageddon after Crowley has moved into Aziraphale's home in a spare room created just for him by the Antichrist.
Rated T for no swearing but smooching and a little suggestiveness.
CHAPTER 1: The Invitation
They had fallen into a pattern so easily that, had it not been for the calendar hanging in the backroom, the angel and demon would not have believed they had not always lived like this. Aziraphale opened the shop in the morning and closed it just before noon. Then he and Crowley would go to lunch and take a walk. Sometimes they would drive the Bentley to someplace new and far, and sometimes they merely strolled to a local favorite. At a certain point, they had dinner and then spent more time together at the shop, drinking and talking or just being quiet and at ease in each other's presence before Crowley went to his room to sleep and Aziraphale went to his desk for some bookkeeping, letting the cycle repeat the next day.
Occasionally when they were out, they'd pass by a newsstand and one of them would notice a decorating magazine but neither of them pointed it out. The Antichrist had added a spare bedroom when he had restored the bookshop, and Crowley was only staying there until the demon renovated his flat, but after smashing a few walls to pieces, the effort stalled. There was no point in rushing through the demolition, Crowley had said, until he had decided what he wanted his flat to look like. And he had yet to decide on a style, thus the interest in the decorating magazines. But the angel didn't want to give the impression that he was in a rush to get rid of his houseguest, and Crowley didn't want his host to think he felt ungrateful.
Or that was what they would say if pressed. In fact, the two of them found the current arrangement too much to their liking to rattle it, so they walked past the magazine stands without a backward glance.
"Mr. Fell! I'm so happy I've caught you," called an enthusiastic young voice as the angel and demon paused to lock the shop before lunch.
"Ah! Yes! Patrick, dear boy!" said the angel. "And how are you today?" He was a bit surprised but he thought he hid it well.
"Just perfect, Mr. Fell, but I do have a favor to ask." The young man got to the point and held out a colorful sheet of paper. "My parents are letting me organize Wednesday night dance lessons at the coffeeshop, but the first two weeks were pretty poorly attended. If I can't turn it around soon, they'll cancel it. Can I post a flyer in your shop window?"
"Dance lessons?" he repeated and turned to look at Crowley. The look was meant to convey shock at the passage of time. Aziraphale had been in the shop for decades - over a century - and every so often it struck him how quick and ephemeral human lives were compared with his own immortality. He remembered when Patrick started toddling on the pavement outside his shop, when he was an infant who had to be carried everywhere, when he was merely a bump in his mother's tummy. And now that boy was arranging a dance class! How soon before Patrick settled down and took over for his parents in running the coffeeshop?
Unfortunately, Patrick thought the look meant perhaps his neighbor wanted to be there. "You are welcome to come, Mr. Fell," he offered. "You and your…" Patrick ran out of words.
Crowley knew that it was no secret to the busybodies in the neighborhood that a man had moved in with Mr. Fell in the one-bedroom flat above the bookstore although no one had seen him bring as much as a suitcase; that this was the same man (or merely looked like it, maybe Mr. Fell had a type) who had visited off and on for years. And while the two were practically inseparable from lunch onward, they never actually did anything to satisfy the gossips. There was no handholding, no public displays of affection, no answer to the burning question, Are they or aren't they?
As a demon, he could appreciate calumny and rumor, but as the best friend to an angel, he couldn't encourage it.
"Crowley," snapped the redhead, giving away nothing. "I'm his Crowley."
Patrick smiled a little too tightly. "Yes, I've seen you around the neighborhood, and of course the car." He paused to look covetously at the Bentley.
"Oi, Paddy, eyes up here and hands to yourself," Crowley growled in warning.
Patrick was a little stunned by the possessive streak but recovered quickly. "Well, you're both welcome. Wednesday evening. The more, the merrier."
"I'll certainly advertise it," said the angel, taking the flyer, "but let me hang it after lunch. We're just going out, you see."
"Thank you, Mr. Fell!" the young man enthused. "Every little bit helps." With that, he moved on to the next storefront.
"You are not seriously considering it," said Crowley when they were alone in the car.
"I certainly wasn't."
Nearly a week later, they ate dinner early. Crowley wasn't exactly sure why, but they skipped lunch, running errands instead. Eating and drinking were really just habits, so it didn't matter if they skipped a meal every now and again. As he maneuvered the Bentley into its accustomed spot, he noticed a small queue in front of the coffeeshop.
"Angel, you cannot be serious," he stated flatly.
"You don't have to come," Aziraphale quickly said. "You can just go home… I mean to the bookshop… and-"
"I know what you mean," Crowley cut him off before Aziraphale apologized too much. "But angels can't dance."
"Now, that is an unkind and ignorant stereotype," the angel straightened his spine. "And that's the whole point of going to lessons: to learn how!"
Crowley pressed himself into his seat. The car was not built for the sort of slouching he wanted to do. "I have known you a long time, Angel. I have seen you move. You cannot dance."
"Whether you are right or wrong about that, I am still going to support Patrick," Aziraphale stated. "I want him to succeed. I want all my neighbors to be successful. That's why we're still here, isn't it? And I would appreciate it if you came too, but if dancing makes you uncomfortable, I understand."
Crowley had to scoff at that. "Have you ever seen me dance? Did I look uncomfortable?" Dancing, he had been quick to discover, was a very effective means of temptation, putting all sorts of thoughts in people's heads. But Aziraphale was so sincerely and guiltily trying not to look at him right now
"Tell me that you didn't appoint yourself as this boy's guardian angel," he said in a tone that skirted dangerously close to a whine.
Aziraphale opened his mouth and then shut it. No denial came.
"Angel!" Crowley yelped in frustration.
"You should have seen him as a baby," his companion said. "He was adorable."
The demon huffed and puffed but it seemed that the decision was already made. "Fine. Thirty minutes. That's all I promise for good behavior. And no dancing for me."
Aziraphale beamed at him.
By some miracle, the crowd was too large for Patrick to personally thank them, but he saw them and shouted something grateful at them across the occupied tables. Crowley nodded and flashed the correct number of teeth, then went to order a drink. It was only a coffeeshop that could not sell alcohol, but the demon didn't let that detail stop him from miracling a little indulgence into his mug.
Patrick soon called the class to order and had them form two lines in the open space at the front of the store, men on one side, women on the other. The lines were uneven until one of the women switched sides and Patrick started to walk them through the basic footwork for the night's dance.
Crowley watched and winced as Aziraphale stumbled through the steps, so earnestly trying to get it right yet lacking an innate rhythm to lead. As a dutiful angel, he probably could follow quite well, but the numbers of male and female dancers didn't support that role for him.
Crowley drained the contents of his mug when a woman joined him at his table, looking as confident as if she owned the place. "So," she said, cheerfully, "Patrick tells me that you are Mr. Fell's Crowley."
"You must be Patrick's mother," he replied. The two humans had the same shape to their mouth and nose, and the age difference was right.
"Yes, I am. I've seen you around the neighborhood before but we haven't been properly introduced. I'm Bernice." She held out her hand.
Crowley took it briefly because that was what humans did. Then he turned his attention back to the dancers who were pairing up to try out their new steps. He preemptively pitied whoever got stuck with the angel.
"Forgive me if I'm being forward," she began, and Crowley just knew she was about to be forward and not at all sorry about it, "but it's good to see that Mr. Fell has a… a companion. He's been in that shop forever, and completely alone. My husband and I sometimes worry about him."
Maybe the woman kept talking, but with all the conversations and music, the mass of bodies, the heat of the room, it all faded into white noise. All he felt, heard, saw, smelled, tasted was the possibility of temptation. It was all around him, just begging for a push. All the discord he could sow just by standing up and asking the wrong person to dance! All the havoc he could wreak by interrupting the wrong couples! And the coffeeshop woman, if only he could use the right coded phrase to completely scandalize her!
Crowley had never gone so long without trying to cause trouble before. True, he usually only bothered with moving violations in the Bentley and various minor temptations of the angel - closing the shop early, trying a trendy new restaurant, abandoning a wretched play at intermission, or opening one last (or second to last) bottle of wine. But ever since Crowley had moved in, the angel had been aggressively hospitable to his house guest, offering up countless ideas to amuse and occupy the demon; any and all tempting was done by the angel. It had built up past the point where regular wickedness wouldn't suffice.
It was too much, he realized with a grimace. He had gotten lazy since moving to the bookshop, hadn't bothered to let off some demonic steam and now of all places and times he was fit to burst. He needed to get out. He had to get away before he ruined things between the angel and the neighborhood.
Mumbling some lame excuse to whoever might be listening, he got up and walked out the door.
Aziraphale finished his apologies and his partner accepted them although he did not attempt to push his luck by asking her to stick with him for one more song.
He had already noticed another couple - Rochelle and Bethany - who always danced together even though both were women, and he wondered if two men could also get away with that and whether Crowley might like to try it. The rules regarding what was allowed or acceptable for the different genders at different times and in different places has always proved a little confusing to the angel who didn't have a gender in the strictest human sense of the concept.
He looked around the crowded store for the familiar head of flaming red hair, but could not find his friend. He frowned. It was unlikely that Crowley was in the bathroom since the demon had no real use for it, but Aziraphale decided that he might as well check.
As he walked past the cash register, Patrick's mother waved him closer. She told him that, "Mr. Crowley said to tell you that nothing is wrong but he was going back to your shop."
Aziraphale blinked. "He what?" Had it really been a half-hour?
"He looked a little tired to me, but I think he's fine," she elaborated. "If I thought he was unwell, I would have told you sooner."
"Ah, well, yes," he fidgeted. "I'll just go home and check on him."
It was a short walk, but long enough for Aziraphale to consider a large number of negative scenarios. When he finally reached the bookstore, he could hear music pouring out of the seams, and it only got louder when he opened the door.
It was no recording of music he owned, but it was very much in keeping with the songs from the dance lesson. He crossed through the front room and to the back. There, he saw a sight that stopped him in his tracks.
It was Crowley dancing.