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i know i've kissed you before (but i didn't do it right)

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Being two man-shaped beings of the world, Crowley and Aziraphale had both made their way around a few human inventions and new-fangled conventions in their time. Language didn’t count. They simply spoke and were understood – that sort of thing was all in the job description. Their appearances, while they might have been able to change them if necessary, were relatively stable and almost but not entirely human, so as to not scare off the poor things. These things were simply built in. Yet, as Aziraphale and Crowley were to discover in their time on Earth, there were many aspects of reality that were far from within their nature, which, nonetheless, they would come to embrace.

Aziraphale, of course, indulged in sensory pleasures. He found the culinary achievements of humanity alone reason enough to go ahead and defy Heaven and Hell.* However out of date his clothes might have been, he also enjoyed quality fabrics and top notch tailoring. And of course, there were his books. Humanity would never ever run out of stories, Aziraphale was quite sure of that by now. Perhaps the stories would change format, but still, Aziraphale devoured them at a truly astonishing rate. And he’d always have one of the best collections of rare and antique books in either hemisphere to show for it at the end of the day. The smell of that collection-thinly-disguised-as-a-bookshop was another sense to marvel at, as was the sight of the overstuffed and cluttered shelves. Perhaps Aziraphale was soft, but he was perfectly happy to be so, because soft was comfortable, and comfortable was content.

*It wasn’t the only reason, of course, or even the main reason – but Aziraphale didn’t care to examine inconvenient and potentially blasphemous feelings in too great a detail.

Crowley, on the other hand, was less interested in the senses available to man-shaped beings and far more interested in the experiences. Nothing really did it for him quite like a ride in the Bentley, speed limit long since forgotten and engine having completely foresaken its true nature. Alcohol was another particularly interesting experience, and Crowley remembered with fondness the very first time he’d gone and had a go at this whole fermented berries lark some of the bosses downstairs had been raving about.* Well, to be more precise, Crowley didn’t remember a thing about that week, but he remembered how excellently dizzy and brilliantly confident he had felt. Much later, his plants became another interesting foray into the murky world of feeling, in that his therapist** had once recommended them for relaxation. Crowley had taken that to mean they’d make an excellent conduit for some of the more pesky emotions he wasn’t as fond of experiencing. He was quite pleased to discover that they made for a pretty good punching bag.

*Hell was absolutely delighted when alcohol really took off, and there were many arguments as to who precisely had been responsible for the delicious liquid which made humans go absolutely silly (and thus, absurdly easy to tempt.) They were quite put out when Heaven managed to find a way to make wine holy again.

**Said therapist never actually had an appointment with Crowley, nor did she understand how the strange man with the pretentious sunglasses had made it into her bedroom so late at night. Oddly enough she felt no fear, only a vague sense of confusion and a great deal of sleepiness. She listened patiently while Crowley admitted to some private feelings of a less than brilliant sort. At some point she recommended gardening meditation, but at the word ‘garden’, the man vanished, and the therapist woke up the next morning only just long enough to call in sick.

Still, there were many and varied arenas of human ingenuity where Crowley and Aziraphale’s interests overlapped. If they hadn’t, the two of them might never have become friends in the first place, which didn’t bear thinking about. But the first time one of them brought up the whole kissing thing, well. That was a little unusual, at least for them at that time – long before the apoca-wasn’t, and even before the official terms of the Arrangement were quite understood.

Who precisely brought up kissing first is a matter still of dispute. The conversation, which neither Crowley nor Aziraphale remember to the exacting degree to which the reader will be subjected, went something like this:

“Anyway, it was a short miracle’s work to send the two of them on their way, and then, you know …”

Crowley slammed his cup of wine down and snorted. “Let me guess, kissing and flopping all over each other until they stumble on home to commit all kinds of vulgar sins my lot invented, and then waking up in the morning to regret the fact that they’re going to do it all over again.” His nose wrinkled with disgust.

Aziraphale frowned and placed his own cup of wine onto the wooden table with a great deal more delicacy. Sometimes he almost forgot about Crowley’s … his … Well, point of fact, the very demonic nature of Crowley.

It was the second century AD, and they’d found themselves in a city on the up and up by the name of Londinium, on the western edge of the Roman Empire. They were wiling away an evening at an inn on the edge of the Thames, which was, even in those times, utterly revolting in every way. Where it passed by the inn occupied by two tentatively trusting beings of divine origin, however, it smelled as sweet as any untouched waterfall.

“There’s no need to be crude,” Aziraphale sniffed. “They were quite a lovely couple. She just wanted to take care of her. Best friends since they were little ones, though it was a great secret. Their parents didn’t understand … Different clans, quite the mess, I’m told.”

Crowley lounged back in his alcove. The inn was in the local style – not Roman – so everything was just a little more cozy than columns and marble allowed for. Crowley found a way to lounge even in cozy, though, to Aziraphale’s dismay.

Crowley frowned. “I thought your lot were supposed to be all … you know, focus on the Christians nowadays, and the Jews. Aren’t heathens off limits?”

Aziraphale pursed his lips. He knew that he really oughtn’t to be telling Crowley any of the details, but honestly … “We do good to all the good people of Earth. Even those who haven’t been as fortunate as to receive the Word. Besides, if we left them all alone I’ve no doubt your lot would tempt them all straight downwards, and that simply wouldn’t do. It’s just strategy.”

“Strategy,” Crowley sneered, rolling his eyes. “Not good for goodness’ sake, then?”

Aziraphale huffed and wondered, not for the first time that evening, if he should simply walk out. Every time, with Crowley, it went like this. And yet every time, Aziraphale kept finding himself lingering in Crowley’s company, drinking, eating, laughing … even, on one memorable occasion, sharing a canoe. Aziraphale didn’t care for it – this growing …. Thing. If there was a word for it, Aziraphale had never heard of it.

Crowley, unbeknownst to Aziraphale, was in fact growing quite uncomfortable himself with how comfortable he found Aziraphale’s company – hence the niggling and teasing. Quite a bit easier to push someone’s buttons (though, of course, buttons had not yet been invented at the time of this particular scene) than admit you actually liked their company.

“I don’t know why I bother,” Aziraphale said.

Crowley grinned. “You might’ve done more harm than good, Angel,” he teased. “Kissing’s one of ours, I expect.”

Aziraphale’s mouth dropped open in horror. “It most certainly is not! Kissing is a sign of love, and affection, and – and –”

And, lustful desire! People can get into all sorts of scrapes kissing who they’re not supposed to. Next thing you know, old Hadrien’s pulling out a sword, and then the screaming starts.”

“Oh, really.”

Crowley triumphantly raised his cup again, certain he had won. “Settles it. Our lot invented kissing.”

“They absolutely did not!” Aziraphale shifted in his seat and resettled in a manner reminiscent of a ruffled pigeon. “It’s done too much good in the world, kissing. It’s how humans show love to one another – parents and children, and friends, and siblings, and – well, yes, lovers too! Honest lovers. Like that lovely young couple I sent off with all the grain.”

“But the lust! You can’t deny there’s lust involved. Possessiveness too – covetousness, even!” Crowley pointed his finger, as he tended to do whenever he argued with the being he’d come to think of as his angel.*

*It wasn’t anything funny, of course, only, as Crowley saw it, they were fated to continue meeting one another and thwarting one another, (sometimes even declaring a winner), so it seemed about right that this particular angel was intended for Crowley specifically.

Aziraphale opened his mouth to argue, but then shut it abruptly and raised a hand to pinch his nose. “Oh, for Heaven’s sake. They invented it, didn’t they?”

“’S’what I’ve been saying!”

Aziraphale shook his head. “No. I mean – the humans. They invented it.”

Crowley stared at Aziraphale for several long moments.

“Oh, fuck it,” he grumbled. “It bloody well was them, wasn’t it?”

Both Aziraphale and Crowley were correct. Humans did, in fact, invent kissing – entirely by accident, as a matter of fact, but that is for another story.

Crowley swallowed another gulp of wine, looking glum. “Every time. Every time I think we’ve managed a vice, turns out, they stumbled into it all on their own …”

Aziraphale raised his eyebrows. “Well, imagine how I feel. The very idea that such a pure, affectionate gesture might have been something we overlooked all along – it doesn’t bear thinking about.” It really didn’t. Humans could be good, but only with divine influence – that was the point of things, wasn’t it? If it hadn’t been an angel who nudged the first human into kissing, well … She only knew.

Crowley drummed his fingers on the table. The stool creaked as he attempted lounging the likes of which the Emperor himself would be impressed by. Aziraphale watched all this with the strongest suspicion,* as he always did whenever Crowley lounged. It wouldn’t do to not keep a close eye on the wily old serpent. Who knew where he’d slither next?

*It should be noted that Aziraphale was never all that good at identifying his own emotions, which was part of the reason he loved reading as much as he did. All the emotions in human stories were very clearly laid out. Suspicion, therefore, was perhaps a less than accurate description of the feeling Aziraphale got when Crowley lounged.

Aziraphale cleared his throat. “Well, there’s no point arguing about it, I suppose. It’s just another bit of human cleverness. Like … bread. And blankets. And carpets.”

“Carpets?”

“You know – like in the Caspian Sea.”

Crowley pulled a face. “I know what carpets are, Angel, I just don’t know if I’d count them among the great achievements of humanity. Alcohol! Now that’s an achievement. And … knives. Swords. Although, no, actually, the last one I think they got from –”

Aziraphale made a very loud tittering noise at that point. Crowley closed his mouth with a smirk, satisfied that he’d rattled Aziraphale. Aziraphale tried to convince himself he was about to walk out, but he didn’t try very hard.

He didn’t even bother to put down his cup.

Instead, he blurted out the first thing on his mind in an effort to change the subject. “Funny thing, though. How enjoyable it all is.”

Crowley tilted his head. “What, human … stuff?”

“Mm,” said Aziraphale, instantly wondering whether he’d said too much. “They have rather a knack for figuring it all out … and we may – well, we may argue about it, my dear, but sometimes I almost suspect that anything human is equally liable to go your way or mine.”

“Careful,” said Crowley, something funny in his voice. “Start asking questions like that and you’ll end up …” He trailed off, but pointed a finger downwards, raising his eyebrows.

“I wasn’t asking questions,” Aziraphale protested, scandalised, “I was merely – pointing out, that we’ve both partaken in certain – human rituals, and inventions, and it’s never seemed to become an issue with anyone from upstairs. Or down, as the case may be.”

Crowley hummed. He was thinking about all the ways in which this conversation might end, and realising that if he played his cards right, he might actually manage to –

“As a matter of fact,” said Aziraphale, interrupting Crowley’s train of thought, “I’ve grown rather curious about the whole kissing thing.”

Oh, well, thought Crowley. That was easy.

He watched the angel before him cautiously. “Is that so?”

Aziraphale nodded. He ignored the slight sensation, in the back of his head, that he was veering towards dangerous ground, the kind of ground which, as angel, he should perhaps fear to tread.

“Have you ever done it?” he asked.

Crowley’s eyes, well-hidden though they were behind a pair of rather unfashionable jewel spectacles, widened. “Me?”

“Well, yes. You were just going on about how it might be used in all the wrong ways, I assumed …”

“No! Satan, no. Much too messy. We don’t just go around seducing humans willy-nilly. I mean, mostly because of all the – bugs, and things, but it’s … I mean, with humans you have to … Erm, no, never tried it, myself.” With that pronouncement, Crowley fell silent, suddenly feeling as if he’d revealed rather a lot more than he meant to.

Aziraphale contemplated the demon before him with a thought circling the back of his head. Technically speaking, it wouldn’t be a temptation – they were both in agreement that kissing was a bit of mess, a very human creation, hardly in keeping with either of their camps … But nor could it charitably be called a mercy, not unless Aziraphale were to keep things distinctly un-messy, which rather defeated the point, didn’t it?

“I mean, we could always try –”

“Between the two of us, my dear –”

They both fell silent, unutterably embarrassed to have been caught. Crowley cleared his throat to speak, but it was Aziraphale – to Aziraphale’s later regret*, and Crowley’s later fixation** – who spoke first.

*Regret is a misnomer. What Aziraphale regretted was not the offer, but the results.

**Fixation here, it should be clarified, is shorthand for the practice of daydreaming.

“I suppose we could always give it a go.”

And there was no mistaking it then – Crowley’s eyebrows shot up. “Well. How about that. I thought I was the one for tempting.”

“It’s not tempting! It’s – a mutual exploration of human rituals and practices. So we know what we’re up against. Mutually.”

Crowley looked very much like he wanted to say something about that just then, and in fact, he did. But for reasons that are Crowley’s alone,* he said nothing for several long seconds. Then he slammed his hand down on the table.

*Specifically, that he didn’t care for the confusingly mushy thing happening to his insides at that moment.

“What are we waiting for? Come on, Angel, let’s see if they’ve a room free.”

“A room!” Aziraphale had barely allowed himself the indulgence – not the indulgence – the – intellectual curiosity to explore something new with Crowley, but a room seemed like a step too far. He hadn’t prepared for a room.

Crowley waved his hand around. “This is a nice establishment. Walls have ears. And floors. Whatever.”

“I don’t want a room,” Aziraphale said firmly. “Look, why don’t we just –”

Without further dithering, Aziraphale snapped his fingers, and the two of them found themselves sitting atop a hill far from anyone or anything, which was twice as lush as it had been approximately three seconds ago. Aziraphale looked around and blushed.

“Overshot it a bit,” he muttered.

“You think?” Crowley sounded more amused than irritated, though. This was because, looking around at their current setting, he actually felt rather pleased. The sun was setting in this part of the world, and it reminded him a little of the Garden, the way the hill stretched out before them, leading to endless plains of wildflowers and swaying grass. It was just painful enough to be worth staying a while.

They sat in silence for a few moments longer. Neither of them knew quite where to begin, but neither was willing to admit to this unforeseen problem of their own making.

Aziraphale turned towards Crowley, folding and unfolding his hands in his lap, seemingly uncertain as to what he should be doing with them. Crowley, for his part, turned his face towards Aziraphale in a deliberately casual fashion, as he did all things, especially when he was frightened. Aziraphale did not notice this – he did not notice a great many things about Crowley.

Perhaps it was some angelic instinct that caused him to take Crowley’s hands into his own. But it was not angelic instinct which caused him to lean in, taking a deep breath. Nor was it angelic instinct that made him close his eyes. Rather, it was bravery – and not a little bit of affection – and the desire to make things easier for Crowley, who had not moved at all, save to allow Aziraphale his hands.

And it was of course not very demonic at all, for Crowley to allow Aziraphale to kiss him so chastely – so gently, so entirely carefully. A kiss like that could not be mistaken for a kiss in the name of lust. A kiss like that was, in its simplest form, a kiss of love. Any kind of love, really – for through such a kiss, all love could be expressed. And there Crowley was, allowing Aziraphale to kiss him like he was loved.

Well, Crowley simply couldn’t allow that. Especially not when it made his insides all mushy again.

So it was that Crowley was the one to nudge things along just a little further. He hadn’t any experience, and was regretting that at the time, but still – he’d been a keen observer of human behaviour, and had a basic idea of how things went. The introduction of tongue was generally considered a pretty decent way to get the ball rolling, so to speak. His first attempt was a little overenthusiastic, probably in no small part due to the fact that his tongue was very different from a human’s, but his second attempt – his second attempt, to his surprise, drew a sound of interest from Aziraphale’s throat.

Crowley was so surprised, in fact, that when Aziraphale began to respond in kind, Crowley forgot – for the first time in millennia – that he was supposed to be the detached one. The one who played it cool. In fact, the very idea of coolness fled the country* as Crowley found himself melting into the arms of his hereditary enemy. He would later find himself ashamed to realise that his attempt at lustful conversion – a half-hearted tempting though it may have been, since they all were when it came to Aziraphale – had been turned right back on him.

*If the reader is wondering, they were in New Zealand.

Aziraphale, meanwhile, had taken to kissing as he took to most things invented by humans at least a few hundred years before he tried it – with great aplomb. To his relief and delight, kissing was less messy than he had been previously led to believe. With him leading, as well, he found that directing the kiss where he wanted it to go was … immensely enjoyable. Especially considering how eagerly Crowley kissed back, following his every lead as if he … as if he wanted to be doing this, here and now, with Aziraphale, not anyone else. Aziraphale felt a small thrill when he realised that perhaps that thought was true – and the thrill became something else entirely with Crowley made a small sound, almost like a sigh, against his lips.

And it was that sound – that sensation of breath, the tiniest vibration in the throat which speaks to the complete and utter abandon of its owner – that parted them.

Aziraphale looked at Crowley, a little out of breath. And Crowley looked back, entirely bewildered.

“Don’t see what all the fuss is about.”

“Overrated, definitely.”

“Certainly wouldn’t try it more than once.”

“Like caviar!”

“Right! Yes – it – caviar. Nasty stuff.”

And that was that. The first and last time that Crowley and Aziraphale ever tried kissing. It was an event which they silently, but mutually, agreed to put behind them forever, and never attempt to discuss.

That said, having mutually agreed not to discuss it didn’t mean that they couldn’t think about it.

Not overly frequently, of course. No more than once a decade or so, perhaps, once they’d both gotten over the embarrassment of the thing.* After that it was easy to be – well, not friends – but enemies of a friendly nature, and continue on as they had done. They only ever allowed themselves to think – to remember a little, but more often to lose themselves in sensations that had long become more imagination than memory. For Crowley, his Thoughts came upon him only when on the verge of a century-long sleep. For Aziraphale, his Thoughts crept up whenever he was deeply engrossed in a novel which had quite a lot to say about subjects such as love.

*This they managed by getting absolutely rip-roaring drunk in a lovely little place somewhere on the coast of China, though neither of them afterwards would remember precisely how to find it again.

Thinking has always been a rather dangerous habit, both for men-shaped beings and humans themselves. Since they were granted it, humans have grappled with the knowledge of good and evil even unto their very destruction. But that’s all right for a human. One might even argue it’s expected.

It is much less so for an angel. And perhaps once it had been all right for demons – in fact, it had been a prerequisite – but those days were long since lost to drudgery and boredom and endless temptations. Thinking now became an occupational hazard of living amongst humans, and neither Crowley nor Aziraphale could quite bring themselves to stop – even when thinking became remembering, and remembering became … something almost like regretting, but struck through with veins of golden longing.

The apoca-wasn’t put a stop to all that.

Crowley was newly delighted with his ability to think and act freely. Between the hellfire bath, the confirmation of what he’d long suspected – that Aziraphale’s bosses were complete and utter pricks – and the fact that approximately thirty seconds of god-parenting had apparently been all that was needed to prevent the apocalypse, well, Crowley was pleased as punch to end up back at the Ritz, with a friend he no longer needed to disguise as an enemy.

Aziraphale, for his part, was a little more reserved in his thinking. It wasn’t that he was any less wonderous than Crowley at the fact that they were together, and alive, and – at least for now – safe. It was simply Aziraphale’s way to hold back just a little.* He had never before felt the need to rush into things, and given that he’d only admitted to himself comparatively recently that perhaps even the phrase ‘best friend’ was a bit of an understatement, he was allowing himself the chance to … not exactly ask new questions, but ponder instead some very old ones.

*Excepting, of course, in the case of potential customers, to whom he could be quite aggressive indeed.

They felt no need to hurry home that night, satisfied with the wine and the meal and the company. It was by mutual agreement that home meant the bookshop – Crowley had always preferred the Bentley to his grey flat. The ducks were fed, and the nightingale sang, and a figure in the park watched on, satisfied that all had proceeded exactly as it was meant to.

And then they were home. They were tipsy, to be sure, but not drunk, and they were alive, but not as they had been before, and the time had come for somebody to be brave.

And this particular conversation went something like this:

“I’ve been –”

“– Thinking lately –”

“Oh!”

They both shut their mouths.

Crowley cleared his throat. “I mean … end times and all … they won’t be bothering us for a while.”

“Yes, precisely what I – well – that is to say, I had considered that,” Aziraphale babbled, nodding vigorously. He stopped when he remembered all the wine he’d drunk.

Crowley, who was lounging on a particularly cushy sofa, carefully rearranged his limbs so that he didn’t look like he was trying too hard. “No eyes from above, is what I meant. Or below. I mean – we could probably do just about anything we wanted, really.”

Aziraphale considered this. “I rather thought the point was just to do … as the humans do, I suppose. Even if they were watching us, that’s what they’d expdect. We did ‘go native’ after all.” He chuckled, remembering the look on Michael’s face.

Crowley cracked a grin too. “Yeah,” he said, but it came out softer than he’d intended, and he swallowed the rest of his wine in an attempt to look cool again.

Aziraphale took a deep breath and looked into the bottom of his glass. He set it down on the desk beside him without drinking it, despite the fact that it was a very good vintage and he’d miracled it up himself. Then, slowly and deliberately, he got up from his hard wooden chair, and sat down beside Crowley, looking very determined all the while.

Crowley looked less like a hedonish tempter draped over a sofa now, and more like a tense pile of limbs about to enter a state of fight-or-flight.

“You were saying that you’d been thinking?” Aziraphale prompted Crowley gently.

Crowley nodded slowly, looking a little dazed. “’Bout … human things. We’ve – tried most of ’em, right?”

Aziraphale ducked his head, but there was a small smile on his face. “Right.”

“Didn’t like all of ’em.”

“Oh, definitely not.”

“Zucchinis!”

“And polyester.”

“Never again.”

“Oh, never.” Aziraphale sighed, feeling the conversation getting away from him.

But then Crowley shifted, realigning his body so that he faced Aziraphale, elbows on his knees and hands twisting nervously together in front of him.

“Some of it might be worth another shot, though,” he said.

“Some of it,” Aziraphale agreed.

They looked at one another. Aziraphale, who had spent the majority of his celestial life worrying about whether he was capable of being bad, stopped worrying. Crowley, who had spent the majority of his cursed life worrying about whether he was capable of being good, also stopped worrying.

Crowley opened his mouth.

“Like, for instance, we could always try –”

Aziraphale kissed him.

Aziraphale kissed him, and Crowley suddenly forgot that there was anything on Her green Earth but the two of them. It wasn’t like their last kiss – experimental, full of questions and uncertainty. This was a kiss between two people who had longed for something impossible, only to discover it had been between them all along.

Aziraphale had not surprised himself by kissing Crowley the first time. That was something he had overthought and justified to himself a thousand times, desperately seeking a way to make his selfishness and his wanting more … angelic. More proper. But the second time Aziraphale kissed Crowley, it was to his own shock, because he thought they’d dance around it a lot longer than they had, and besides, he still wasn’t quite sure if Crowley would kiss him back. After six thousand years, if Crowley had felt anything for Aziraphale, Aziraphale was certain that there should have been a lot more flirting by now.

But there hadn’t been. There’d only ever been a little teasing of the sort easily dismissed as friendly banter. And with the way Crowley was kissing him now – with the reverent lips of a believer – Aziraphale suddenly understood why. He’d dared to hope that Crowley might be attracted to him, but never fully allowed himself to understand that Crowley loved him already, and the rest simply followed from that, like a river which flows from a lake of unfathomable size.

Crowley, for his part, allowed himself to doubt Aziraphale’s intentions. After all, doubt had defined the course of his immortal life, why should it leave him now? But as Aziraphale kissed him with the hungry hands and desperate embrace of a lover, he suddenly understood that the angel he’d once marked out as his, had in fact been his all along – only in quite a different way than he’d ever dared dream.

This kiss, unlike their first, did not end for quite some time, though it very quickly evolved into something altogether newer and lovelier. What Aziraphale and Crowley discovered on this night, approximately one thousand, eight hundred years after their first attempt, was that humanity was indeed responsible for the invention of the kiss – but love, as they experienced it, was the domain of neither Heaven, nor Hell, nor even humanity – but of all who lived in Her creation.