The angel was silent. It was - strange, standing there, trying to explain his ink to Aziraphale without being able to gauge his reaction. His tattoos were personal, meaningful; it had taken a lot of time and a lot more thought before he’d committed to each one. Sure, he could have miracled them away, but…he didn’t want to. They meant things to him.
It was a little like being laid bare, he thought, unsure if he was happy with or depressed by the analogy. Probably the closest he’d ever get to laid bare, anyway, and it was true in all the ways that really mattered. Sharing, and baring, a little bit of his soul, as it were.
“’Course the scales are a bit of protective camouflage, of a sort - nowadays in some neighborhoods there’s folk who won’t even blink at my eyes, think they’re contacts of some sort, the things humans come up with, honestly -” he was babbling, he knew he was babbling, but Aziraphale was so quiet behind him, it was driving him mad. “So ’f they see scales up above my collar, well, it just adds to the whole picture, doesn’t it, makes it easier for them to wave it off as some ‘alternative lifestyle’ choice or whatever they’re calling it, and I don’t have to worry about slipping up -”
He cut himself off there, sober enough to stop his mouth from running into even more delicate and soul-baring territory, but drunk enough to want desperately to share those secrets. If there was anyone in the world who might know, might understand how difficult it was sometimes to keep his divinity - his profanity? - his otherness from bleeding through into this corporeal form, it would be Aziraphale. Crowley allowed himself a moment, a single moment, to imagine Aziraphale’s face softening with understanding, head tilting ever so slightly, eyes warm and a little sad as he reached out to -
No. No. That way lay disaster.
And the angel still hadn't spoken a word, silent and still behind him, the air between them going stale and staticky with the build of anxiety in Crowley’s gut as the angel just kept not speaking. This was a mistake, he should have just kept them hidden like always, should have kept his barriers in place, but Armageddon’t was weeks behind them now, Heaven and Hell had long since backed off, the world - their world - was finally settling back into their routine, albeit with significantly more lunches and meetings at St James’ Park and nights like these in the bookshop with two or three or seven bottles of wine...
Crowley started to look then, just a turn of his head, intending to follow up with a twist at the waist and a witty quip about - something, he’d come up with something, always did - when the stiff and static air between them stirred, and something brushed across the ink at the curve of his neck.
Crowley was able to lock down the involuntary shudder through sheer force of will, but wasn’t fast enough to stop the broken gasp that ripped from his chest. Aziraphale had touched him, bare skin to bare skin, just then, just there, the little patch of inked skin practically burning with sensation -
“I’m so sorry, my dear,” Aziraphale blurted, fingers withdrawing, although Crowley could feel them hovering, now, bare centimeters from flesh. “I don’t know what came over me; you said they’re a form of art and I certainly know better than to touch art without permission.”
Crowley was staring at the table where his glasses sat, discarded hours and bottles ago, and aching for the shield they represented. “’s fine,” he answered, trying for breezy but sounding strained and awkward. “Caught me by surprise, is all. ’s rather meant to be touched,” he added, and cursed himself thoroughly for it. Stupid, stupid -
Aziraphale’s fingers settled back on the curve of his neck, and Crowley very nearly discorporated on the spot.
“They’re lovely,” the angel murmured, voice as soft as the skin of his fingertips. Crowley swallowed while his brain attempted to shut down. “You’re lovely,” Aziraphale added, quieter, unaware that he was - he was killing Crowley, with the voice and the words and the touch and -
Those sinfully soft fingertips traveled sideways and scraped up against the actual scales on his neck, the ones Crowley had camouflaged with identical inked replicas, the difference noticeable only when touched. His eyes fluttered closed involuntarily as the angel’s touch slid back and forth between the real scales and ink copies, studying them the way Crowley imagined he studied the covers of particularly rare volumes; focused, gentle eyes gone piercing with intent as he teased out the minute details. There was something squeezing Crowley’s chest, making it difficult to breathe. His own fingers were trembling with the effort to keep the rest of him still, but he didn’t dare clench them - it might send the wrong message, scare Aziraphale away, and as much as he was certain he was dying under the angel’s touch, he knew he’d discorporate if it stopped.
Aziraphale was speaking, quiet and low and nearly impossible to follow when there was the more pressing matter of his hand on Crowley’s neck, even if it was just the barest touch of fingers. Crowley attempted to focus on the words in a desperate effort to think about anything other than those fingers on his skin.
“-must have taken considerable effort to get the sheen just right,” he was murmuring, still switching between patches. He stepped closer, and Crowley could feel the heat of his body, and it was torture. “Absolutely stunning.”
He had to know what he was doing, he had to. Crowley was dying by degrees, feeling like his very atoms were threatening to shake apart under the effort of holding himself very, very still. A snake in the grass, pretending as hard as it can to be an unassuming and very much not alive shape to the bird circling overhead; a predator coiled and prepared to strike, waiting until its prey was distracted; these metaphors were getting away from him, all tangled up and trembling like his thoughts.
He had to know. If Aziraphale was doing this by accident - and Crowley found himself in the awkward position of hoping Aziraphale was torturing him on purpose - if this was an accident, well, he was done for. He’d never be able to look at the angel again without remembering this moment in vivid detail; the smooth cadence of his voice, the heat washing from his body, the agonizing slide of fingers on skin. He couldn’t tell how long they’d stood like this. It had been minutes, hours, centuries.1
In a sudden rush of movement Aziraphale’s fingers tripped down Crowley’s spine, top to bottom, and he barely bit back the moan - aborted, awkward, swallowed down after the barest hint of escape - but he didn’t, couldn’t, stop the full-body shudder.
This was it, he’d ruined it, he might as well discorporate on the spot because he would never, ever have this again -
“Oh, my dear,” Aziraphale murmured from behind him, and fingertips turned into a full hand that slid all the way back up.
It was a gasp this time, not a moan; slightly less embarrassing, thank - thank somebody - but the hand didn’t stop, swept to the curve of his neck, to that first heavily studied patch of ink and scales and skin, and the second hand came up to rest on his hip, half on stylishly tight black jeans and half on bare skin, fingers gripping, and this, this was - this was Heaven, this was Hell, this was everything and anything between, caught, trapped between want and need and terror and hope, the worst of all, fluttering like a caged thing in his too-tight chest.
The full hand was playing across his neck and shoulder and shoulder blade, teasing at the edges of the full sleeve of plant tattoos, smoothing over the prickles of gooseflesh that had erupted at some point after the incredibly good - bad - both - incredible moment when Aziraphale had first noticed, and questioned, the edges of a tattoo under his shirt and Crowley, wine drunk and bolder than he’d been in millennia, had miracled off his shirt and jacket and turned to show off in all his inked glory. Aziraphale's hand - hands, oh G- Sa- somebody, both hands were on him, he would never, ever forget this, not until the heat death of the universe - were warm, the way all of him was warm, warm and soft and angelic in the way one expected angels to be warm and soft, and not the way most angels were actually hard and cold and unfeeling, but not Aziraphale, not his angel.
No. Nope. Disaster ahead, do not think like that, do not -
Aziraphale was still exploring, seemingly oblivious to the absolute wreck he was making of Crowley's nerves, of Crowley. He traced down the right side of the demon's ribs, where more plants blossomed; plants that no longer existed, that had disappeared from the world, that only survived now as echoes in the very, very long memories of these two immortal beings. Crowley'd had to draw them out from memory, painstakingly trace and shade and color every leaf, stem, and blossom. Each carried a memory with it, a moment; sometimes he laid awake at night and traced his own fingers over the inked foliage, thinking, remembering, because every single leaf and petal was his desperate attempt to capture history. His history. Their history.
He'd never tell Aziraphale - he'd sworn at the first tattoo, and his conviction had only redoubled with time - but every memory he'd cared to immortalize had centered around the two of them.
The angel's hand swept inwards, thumb tracing idly over the ridges of Crowley's spine as he framed one particular piece with his fingers. "Is this...?"
Crowley knew exactly which flower Aziraphale had centered on; it was back there, away, where he couldn't see it, but sometimes it still burned at his soul. "From the Garden2, yeah," he managed, and if his voice was rough and a little shaky, well. Aziraphale didn't mention it, though his left hand flexed lightly on Crowley's hip, and wasn't that little motion going to torture him for decades.
There was a buzzing in his hands, his arms, his knees; held still, despite the traitorous trembling of his fingers, by willpower and terror and overwhelming need, he felt rather like he was going fuzzy at the edges, like his mind was trying to lift away. He took as deep a breath as his aching chest would allow and tried to center in the moment, in the sensation of two warm, soft hands on his skin, of a warm body just barely behind his own, of the soft flutter of breath on his shoulder - wait -
Aziraphale's lips had come to rest on the curve of his neck, right there, right at that first patch of inked scales, and his knees gave out entirely as he let out the most undignified whimper.
He expected to crash to the floor any second, or wake up to find it was just some sort of - of fever dream, that the entire night had been an elaborate mental fantasy that had gotten rather out of hand, but instead Aziraphale's arms caught him around the waist and held him up, pressed gently but firmly back against the angel's chest. "There now, it's alright."
Those lips hadn't lifted, much, and the arcane patterns they made against his skin as they formed words were a brand that seared down to Crowley's very soul. His own mouth worked, helplessly, but all he managed to do was litter the air with fragments of consonants, slivers of vowels, a harsh and broken cacophony compared to the lilting melody of the angel's own quiet, measured voice as he murmured reassurances into Crowley's skin. His eyes burned, closed tightly against the world. If this was just a dream - if it was all in his head - he didn't dare shatter the moment by something so careless as looking. Every aspect of his focus narrowed down to those places where Aziraphale touched him - left arm up and firmly locked against his chest, now, as his right hand stroked down the inked flesh of his arm; the press of chest to back; the slightest brush of cheek to neck as his mouth just - just stayed there, pressed gently into the skin like...like a benediction.
His hands came up to clutch, desperately, at the arm across his chest, crossing against one another, one clamping down at the elbow, the other - shaking, trembling, like he was bound to spin apart any moment now - barely brushing against the back of Aziraphale's own, tentative, a question without words. He received a wordless answer as the angel's fingers spread apart and lifted just enough to hook Crowley's fingers between them and press down again, stilling the shivering digits with pressure and warmth even as the rest of Crowley's body began to quake.
Aziraphale was lowering them gently to the floor, perhaps taking pity, perhaps aware that Crowley's legs were absolutely not going to cooperate with anything else, perhaps, perhaps... There were words, soft words, every single one of them spoken directly into his skin, floating around somewhere in his chest, handfuls of them bubbling up to surface inside his skull. "It's alright, my dear, I've got you, you're alright," and a litany of the same as the angel settled on the floor and tucked Crowley - boneless and yielding despite doing his best impression of his plants - into his lap. "Oh, my dear."
"Angel," Crowley managed, and it came out broken; Aziraphale's arm tightened across his chest, while the other came up to stroke gently across the patch of ground elder inked onto his bicep. "Angel, I-"
He stopped there, too overwhelmed to finish the sentence or even the thought, his hands tightening helplessly where they clung to Aziraphale's hand and elbow. He was afraid, so afraid, that if he said the wrong thing - did the wrong thing - thought the wrong thing, that it would all be over, that Aziraphale would go still and stiff and the air in the room would change, and he would have to play off this...this moment, this need as some sort of - of joke. That he'd have to stand up, and grin, and make a witty comment, and leave, and they'd never speak of it again, and the memory of Aziraphale's arm wrapped around him would be tainted with the gaping chasm of shame and despair he could feel lurking, even now. He'd ruin it, and this, all of this, the tenderness and the softness and the touching, it would be lost to him forever, and just the thought of that was cracking something open in his chest, raw and desperate, and-
"Shhh, my dear, it's okay. It's alright. Don't spin out now, love, we've come so far."
There were tears on his face - his tears, they had to be, although how they'd gotten past the seal of his eyelids was a mystery. One of them, traitorous, escaped his cheek to land wetly on their joined hands. Before Crowley could - well, before he could anything, although there wasn't a single thing he could think to do, cradled in the angel's arms and wrapped in his own overwhelming emotions - Aziraphale's right hand came up to gently, ever so gently, wipe the rest away. The touch of fingers, then palm, as Aziraphale cradled his cheek caused Crowley's eyes to flutter back open involuntarily, and the world came into soft and watery focus.
They sat there for a long, stretching moment, and the wild whirling of Crowley's anxiety settled slowly under Aziraphale's continual presence. They were close now, closer than they'd been in all their millennia, closer than Crowley had ever dared to imagine. Having the angel wrapped around him, holding, comforting - it was...nice. It soothed something in his soul that he hadn't known, or more accurately hadn't acknowledged, needed soothing. Something that had been ruffled and rucked up since the angel first admitted to giving away his flaming sword. He was willing to sit here for hours, for weeks, for eons, just basking in the closeness and the slowly growing awareness that this was - this was something Aziraphale wanted. Not just something he was tolerating, but actively wanted, based on the way the angel was rubbing a thumb gently against his cheek and keeping Crowley pinned to his chest, firm and unyielding under the softness.
Crowley's trembles subsided into stillness as the realization washed through him. It brought its own tension - don't mess this up don't mess this up - but that was something he could work with. He'd been tense all his life; tense hiding his feelings, tense hiding his fears, tense hiding himself, his true self, from everyone. Almost everyone.
"I suspect I've gone too fast for you, my dear," Aziraphale murmured against his shoulder, and startled a laugh out of him.
"Angel was that - was that a joke?"
He'd turned his head so much, trying to see, that Aziraphale had to lift his mouth from the curve of Crowley's neck - and wasn't that a feeling that he'd never forget - and lean sideways a bit to meet his eyes. The angel's face was soft, and gentle, and...beatific, almost like the way he got with excellent food or a particularly exciting new acquisition, but this was...more. It was directed at Crowley, and it was more, and it was doing funny things to his heart.
"Did you just make a joke?"
"I thought it was rather good," Aziraphale twinkled back, and Crowley laughed again, disbelieving and exhilarated and a little - a lot - in love. "There we are," the angel added, thumb stroking across to lay over Crowley's lips while his fingertips rested on the sharp jut of his cheekbone. "I simply love your eyes."
"Don't," he begged, and the eyes in question closed reflexively, earning a sad tutting sound from Aziraphale until Crowley forced them open again. His face was burning under the scrutiny, and the trembling was threatening to return to his fingers; he gripped at his handholds even harder and tried to will the blush away.
"Beautiful," the angel breathed, and Crowley - Crowley was lost. "Do you know, they're the first bit of you I loved. Followed rather shortly by, well, by you," and now it was the angel's face turning bashful and a little flushed. "Took me rather a long time to realize it, I'll admit, but I've never been able to resist those eyes."
Crowley swallowed thickly, opened his mouth to say something, but Aziraphale pressed his thumb just a little bit firmer against his lips, so he subsided.
"I worried, you know, that it was - well, that it was just me being foolish. For a very brief moment I even wondered if you were doing it on purpose -" the pressure of his thumb increased, although Crowley wouldn't have said a thing, not a single thing, to shatter this moment "- but deep down I knew you weren't capable of that kind of cruelty. It was all my own doing, this love business. And then you rescued, well, allowed me to rescue us, and you rescued the books, and I, well. I simply couldn't pretend anymore.”
His fingers tightened around Crowley’s for a brief moment while a shadow flitted across his face.
“I wish I hadn’t been so afraid. So many years we could have had like this - I rather suspect that whole Antichrist business would have gone very differently…” A wry smile quirked the edges of his mouth, and seeing that up close, seeing his face this close - Crowley was drowning, committing every detail to memory as fast as he could, storing them away for bad days and long nights and empty moments. “I thought I might be able to tempt you into forcing the issue, but you’ve always been so good to me-”
“’M not good,” Crowley managed, and Aziraphale’s face flashed exasperation. He slipped his thumb down to the bottom of Crowley’s chin and deliberately forced his teeth together, holding his mouth closed, but gently.
“You are. Oh, my dear, I can see this is going to be a lifelong battle, but I will win it. But right now I’m confessing to you, so if you don’t mind…”
Crowley swallowed, pinned under a stern blue gaze and the face he’d never been able to deny, and nodded slightly to indicate the interruptions were over. The smile he was rewarded with made everything worth it - the whole fourteenth century, Armageddon’t, every single bad thing that had ever happened to him, all of it worth it if it had brought him here, to this moment, to his angel smiling at him like that. He imagined that this was how humans must feel when they brushed up against divinity; an overwhelming awe, paired with the knowledge of not being good enough to be in that presence, but ready to do anything and everything to earn a place by its side.
“Much better. Where was - yes. I got rather caught up in my own head there for a while, and these past few months I thought - well, I hoped - that you’d push the issue again, but you haven’t. You’ve been so gentle with me, don’t think I hadn’t noticed; tempering that sharp tongue of yours, asking if you can come round instead of just showing up, bringing wine and books and pastries and all manner of things you know I like. Refusing to push. But I don’t want you to be careful, Crowley, my dear - unless you want to be. Unless…” his face clouded over and the pressure on Crowley’s jaw slackened while he struggled with his thoughts. “Unless I’ve misjudged.”
“No, angel, no -” Crowley blurted, trying to twist in his lap without letting go of his arm, and there was a brief moment of struggle before he managed to get them both sorted out, now turned around entirely whilst still in his angel’s lap, knees to either side of Aziraphale’s hips. His own hands now framed the other’s face with desperation. He was shaking again. “No, you’ve judged - I do want - don’t want - I -” he was floundering, he was failing, he was losing it, but Aziraphale was smiling, now, and somehow everything seemed like it might turn out okay. He pressed their foreheads together, closed his eyes, and took a deep, if shaky, breath. “I want this. I’ve wanted this for…for a long time. All of it. Everything.”
Aziraphale’s hands were on his wrists, pulling his hands down even as he pulled back, and Crowley’s eyes opened to track this departure, but the angel didn’t seem intent on going far. The beatific smile was back and it did…something, to his heart, to his gut, to his senses, and before he could think it through Crowley had surged forward to press their lips together.
There was a moment, shining and pure, that enshrined itself in the very center of his heart, and he suddenly understood why humans made such a big deal out of kissing.
And then he panicked, because Aziraphale hadn’t moved at all, and he ripped himself backwards with a gasp, very nearly tumbling off the angel’s lap, apologies and pleas for forgiveness tripping from his tongue as he wriggled, trying desperately to escape. Aziraphale was saying something3, but it couldn’t get past the rushing in his ears. Too fast, too fast, I ruined it, he’ll -
“Crowley,” Aziraphale commanded, and the demon went still. He was, he realized, now trapped even more tightly in the angel’s lap - Aziraphale had let go of one wrist to place a bruising grip on his hip, while the other wrist had been pulled behind Aziraphale’s back, forcing them so close together that the ragged heaving of Crowley’s chest was causing them both to sway slightly. There was that face again, the one that could move mountains, that never failed to move Crowley, but now there was something softer, lurking underneath. “Crowley, my dear.”
They were so close together, it was scrambling his brain. What was left of it to scramble, anyway, after everything that had already happened. “Yes, Aziraphale?”
“I love you.”
Aziraphale gave that a moment to sink in, a smile blossoming across his face. Crowley’s heart was practically vibrating with how fast it was beating, a fluttering, helpless thing inside his chest. “I love you, Crowley. And I’d very much like for you to do that again.”
The moment stretched between them, full of hope and promise, and Crowley very carefully raised his hand to bury it in Aziraphale’s soft curls. His angel’s eyes were full of - of love. For him.
“I love you, angel,” he breathed, and kissed him.