The first time it happens is in Venice. Aziraphale can’t quite recall the exact date, sometime in the mid-1500s, when Crowley comes fresh off a boat from Florence in his black ruff and matching doublet. It’s the last day of Carnevale, the air a bit crisp and the salt of the sea blowing in. They find each other in the market, avoiding Piazza San Marco for the little side street stalls, Aziraphale buzzing with excitement.
“I can’t wait for you to see what these humans have done. It’s a wonderful celebration,” he says, leading Crowley through the stalls. They stop in front of a merchant selling ornate embroidered masks, decked in jewels and feathers, hand-painted in delicate swirls. “It’s the done thing to wear one of these during the evening festivities.”
He selects a plain porcelain mask, covering the face from the forehead to the nose. It’s fine craftsmanship, the exterior cool and smooth, reflecting the early morning sun to match his cream-colored doublet.
Crowley hums but says nothing, walking with his hands tucked behind his back as he examines each mask with care. He stops at each one, looking it up and down, his face so close the rims of his glasses brushes against the edges, the feathers tickling his face. He settles on a dama made of leather and dyed a rich deep black covering the eyes and forehead. The edges are embroidered in rich red silk with sculpted feathers extending upward from the left side.
Aziraphale’s breath hitches when he tries it on. “It suits you,” he says before approaching the vendor.
They don their masks and make their way through the market to collect wine and soft and sweet mascarpone cheese. Crowley confiscates a loaf of bread and sliced salami. They walk in silence, for the most part, commenting on the food and the different styles of dress in brief spurts. “You can be anyone you want during Carnevale,” Aziraphale says. “I think it’s quite delightful.”
Crowley hums in agreement, though his mind is elsewhere. On occasion, he flicks his wrist out as he passes small children, the sound of coins pinging off the stone, tinkling as they fall from his sleeve. He’s been quiet, a bit stilted, since Leonardo left for France. At the news of his passing, Aziraphale urged him to come to Venice, though it’d taken him another decade to arrive. They’ve both been patrolling Italy for the last five decades, Rome ripe for temptations and blessings during the heart of the Renaissance and a brutal papacy.
They duck under an awning and out of the mid-afternoon heat next to the water where the breeze comes in. Aziraphale conjures a blanket and they spread their feast out, dipping bread into tapenade and their fingers into the mascarpone cheese. The bottle of wine passes between them, refilling as needed, and after a while Crowley ditches his mask on the ground and complains that it itches.
As the sun sets and revelry begins, Azirphale fills their silence with idle chatter. “Oh look at how dear they are. I do wish sometimes I could dance.”
Crowley takes a long pull from the wine bottle, reclined against a wall with one leg dangling over the water. “Why don’t you then?” he asks.
Aziraphale stutters for a moment, gesticulating. The partygoers have divvied off into couples or sometimes whole groups circling hand-in-hand. They move in coordinated steps, little jaunty jumps and bursts of laughter. “It’s not the done thing for angels,” he says, though he looks wistful even behind his mask.
“Just because angels don’t doesn’t mean you can’t. You’re not quite like other angels.”
“Aren’t I?” he says, turning back to look at Crowley.
“Nah, you’re better.” He sits relaxed against the wall, his one leg mere inches from the water, the other extended outward in the opposite directions. He’s foregone the mask, though it’s mussed his hair. The glasses sit a bit crooked on his face.
Aziraphale breathes for a moment and takes him in, a bit drunk perhaps, and full from their late lunch. “That’s a very kind thing of you to say.”
Crowley scowls and takes another swig from the bottle of wine. “Is not,” he says in retort. A bit of wine escapes his lips leaving a red trail down his chin.
Lord knows what possesses him then, urged on by the smallest temptation. Aziraphale reaches up and wipes the errant stain from Crowley’s chin, letting his thumb linger, his palm cupped around his jaw. It’s easy then to just tilt his head and lean in, pressing his mouth to the demon’s. It’s the drink or the festivities or maybe just Crowley who he’s not seen for almost twenty years, looking a bit worn and jaded, his usual radiating optimism dulled to a muted tarnish.
His mouth is soft and pliant, breath a bit salty from the tapenade and salami. When Aziraphale pulls back, just a fraction, he can feel his breath come in deep puffs. “You can be very kind,” he says.
Crowley keens, a quiet little sound nigh audible amongst the festivities and music, but Aziraphale can feel it under his palm where his other hand rests on his chest. He crushes their mouths back together, licking into his mouth, and Crowley’s hand comes up to fist his doublet, pulling him closer.
He knows what Crowley’s been up to these past decades. He’d been there for the corruption in the Vatican, the nepotism and brutality which swept the streets of Rome during Alexander VI’s reign, sent on a mission from Hell. But he’d also stepped on the heels of the great Leonardo da Vinci, studied as an apprentice for him for some years despite never achieving greatness. He’d sometimes send Aziraphale little sketches and notes about the great inventor’s brilliance, his passion, that he saved in a book for safekeeping.
“Look at you,” Aziraphale murmurs, lips ghosting along his ear, “So sweet.”
Crowley hisses and pulls him back down, turning the kiss fervent, his nails scraping where Aziraphale’s collar meets flesh. “Shut up,” he says, pulling him on top.
Aziraphale bears his weight down, cupping the back of Crowley’s head. He slows down the kiss, leaving the demon panting, fingers moving to tighten on either arm. They go slow like this for some minutes, the angel controlling the pace, tucked away in the shadows under an awning while the Venetians celebrate, oblivious. Crowley rocks against him, scrabbling, but Aziraphale remains relentless.
“I know what you’re like,” he says.
“You don’t,” Crowley snarls, punctuating it by nipping at his lower lip. “You don’t know anything.”
“I saw you this morning, your little magic tricks.”
Crowley thrusts upward and shakes his head, his whole body arched and taut. “You’re mistaken. I’m just a demon.”
“No,” Aziraphale says, low and dark. He marks the skin just underneath his jaw and drags his nose along his cheek until they’re face-to-face. He brings his hand around, a slow drag from his lower back, up and over his shoulder and along his sharp cheekbone, plucking off the dark glasses. Underneath Crowley’s eyes are blown wide, the whites consumed by his irises, illuminated by the light of the fireworks. “No, I don’t think so. You don’t see it, but you can be just so pure. ”
Crowley keens then, hips bucking and back bowing. His nails tear at the cream silk brocade of Aziraphale’s doublet, shaking through his orgasm. Aziraphale cradles him, peppering kisses down his jaw as he comes down, panting, feeling the aftershocks tremor through him. The cool porcelain of his mask brushes against the hot skin like soothing a burn. When it’s over, he rolls off and looks at the demon spread across the blanket, one boot stuck in the mascarpone cheese. His eyes are heavy, his face slack and relaxed in a way Aziraphale’s not seen in some time.
“Angel,” Crowley says, a bit breathless and stunned.
Aziraphale hauls him upwards off the ground so his head rests on his shoulder. “Crowley,” he says, the weight of what’s happened settling in. Crowley’s breathing slows, steady and even, the rush of serotonin and oxytocin mixed with alcohol taking over. “Crowley?” Aziraphale asks but receives no response.
With one arm trapped under the weight of the demon’s body, Aziraphale reaches for the discarded wine bottle. It’d been tipped over during their tumble, and he miracles it full again. He’s never taken to sleep, but he can drink like none other. It’s just past midnight, the Venetians are celebrating in full swing. He watches them play games for prizes, delighting at the sight of fireworks, their masks glittering under the flashing explosions. They dance in circles, laughing as they cling to each other. They dance and dance and dance.
In the morning, Crowley wakes at first dawn, his eyes squinting as he searches with clumsy hands for his glasses. Aziraphale watches him with apprehension, sitting off to the side. He can see the furrowed brow, the way he works his jaw, groaning as he sits upright. It’s never good when he falls asleep without sobering up first. They’re not the only ones left on the streets in the square. Several other people stumble past, gripping the walls for purchase on their journey home.
“There’s cheese on my shoe,” Crowley says, removing his boot and scraping it against the wall.
“Well, we did consume quite an exorbitant amount of alcohol.”
“Come to this party, says Aziraphale. It’ll be good fun, says Aziraphale.” Crowley mocks him, scowl affixed on his face. “I hardly remember anything about it.”
“Ah,” Aziraphale says, hands fidgeting. He makes to stand. “You did miss out on the fireworks.”
Crowley pouts a bit, though he’d never call it that. “Could have made a right ruckus out of that.”
“Yes well, perhaps it was better you fell asleep.”
“Hmmph.” He looks at Aziraphale and reaches up to touch his collar where the fine threads have been snagged and ripped. “What happened here?”
“Oh!” Aziraphale says, feigning surprise. “Just, uh, drunkenness I suppose.” He bats Crowley’s hand away and covers the tear with his own. “Well, uh, I must be off. I have an appointment at San Marco’s Basilica in the afternoon.”
“Right. Well, let’s not do this again.”
Except Aziraphale can’t stop thinking about it. After the weeks and months go by without hellfire and brimstone pouring down on him, he stops worrying but can’t erase what happened. Sometimes he can squash the memory down for decades at a time, but it just pops up again unbidden and unwelcome. It flares hot within him standing in the Globe Theatre as Crowley promises him a miracle and again when he rescues him from the Bastille.
You can be so good , he thinks. If Crowley had free will, if he’d been made a human, he’d be so different, not angelic but kind. Aziraphale has to remind himself of the truth. He is a demon, inventor of Original Sin. He can’t be good, bound to Hell as he is.
But he wants to be , he thinks. Doesn’t he ?
And then there’s the other matter of their coupling. He thinks about it during late nights in the bookshop, hands splaying over his waistcoat but never daring to sink lower. The way Crowley gripped him, his mouth pliant and wet, drunk and helpless, had been divine. And the way he looked after, his face open and raw, makes Aziraphale’s eyes shut and his hands clench around the armrests of his chair.
It becomes an addiction, trying to capture pieces of that night again.
"Thank you for coming for me," he says over crepes.
Crowley has his face buried in his espresso, and he clips the edge of his tooth against the delicate ceramic. He gives Aziraphale a look.
"No I insist," he continues on, drumming his fingers on the table in nervous habit. "It was good of you."
"I will get up and leave you here to fend for yourself unless you desist," Crowley says, hands gripping his cup.
"But you should know," Aziraphale presses. Crowley harrumphs but he doesn't leave. The angel counts it as a win, a light flutter kicking up inside him.
He says it again in the Bentley after the church bombing of 1941. In response, Crowley grips his steering wheel, knuckles white in stark contrast to the shiny black leather. He shifts in his seat, nigh imperceptibly, but Aziraphale catches it and his breath hitches at the sight. "I said shut up," Crowley says, his voice a bit ragged.
Aziraphale aches to grab hold of him, kiss him the way he knows Crowley would like, slow and a bit forceful. Thank you, thank you, thank you, my love , he'd say, for being so sweet.
Instead, he says, "Look at me please," and waits until he has Crowley's full attention. "What you did was very good."
A flush creeps over the demon's face, just a shadow in the darkness. "I'm not good, angel," he protests.
"No," Aziraphale agrees, "but you are good to me."
He exits the Bentley and takes a steadying breath, chest aching as he walks to his front step.
And then there's the matter of Warlock Dowling who has a penchant for being nasty and a bully to his parents' friends' children. "You'll crush them with the heel of your boot one day," Crowley tells him, the boy beaming as they walk hand-in-hand along the garden paths.
Crowley's there after he falls from an old fruit tree in the garden, kissing his scraped knees and throwing him over her shoulder until he's laughing again. She's there when the Dowlings leave on vacation for three weeks, leaving him behind. He stays busy with little crafts and his tutoring, and in the afternoon she takes him out traipsing through the woods, switching her flats for boots. Warlock grows into a surly little thing who scowls at everyone and anyone who crosses his path, but never for Nanny. He beams whenever she walks into the room, and she sees it every time, a small smile gracing her face in return.
Warlock loves her and is unrestrained with his affection. He hugs her and grabs her by the hand, dragging her down the little gravel paths decorating the garden, and Aziraphale watches them run by with the words clumsy on his tongue, stuck to his teeth.
Sometimes she visits him after Warlock's put to bed in his little cottage house on the far end of the grounds. They share a few glasses of wine, trading notes on their deeds for the day. For all the terrible things she's taught him, Aziraphale can only think of all the good.
These nights run late, and without fail, Crowley begins to doze, her head lolling against the back of the couch. Aziraphale is only brave in the dark, worrying the bottom of his lip with his teeth as he murmurs, "You're so good to him. He loves you so much. I--" He wants to say it too, but it catches in his throat every time, so instead he shakes her awake and sends her back to her room in the manor.
The possessiveness of it all frightens him. Covetousness and lust are not becoming of an angel, but still, he wants down to the very ethereal core of him. It's blasphemous, and it tugs at him a bit more every day.
And standing at the end of it all, Adam's hand in Crowley's, Aziraphale can't help but feel the fool. How could he doubt Crowley's goodness in the face of Beelzebub and Lucifer? If that is not free will, then what is it, and who is he?
He inhales the hot air of the desert surrounding Eden, letting it blow through his stretched and sore wings. He looks at Crowley, mouth parted at the sight, this serpent meant for heat and wet and the smell of petrichor, all of Earth's pleasures. Still, he cannot say the words. Not yet. There's the boy, the Antichrist, who holds all their future's in his hand, never mind the fact Aziraphale never told Crowley just what he means to him.
Not yet, he thinks, but soon.
The night passes in slow motion after Armageddon. Waiting on the bench, passing a bottle of wine between them, reminds Aziraphale of many nights across borders and time where they whittled the hours away waiting for something, anything to happen. It reminds him of Carnevale, the heat of their bodies rucked against each other, barred by their clothes and their own urgency. The Oxford bus rolls down the street, and once aboard, Crowley tips against the window, asleep.
Aziraphale shakes the demon awake when they arrive in Mayfair. Up in Crowley's flat, the demon goes to the liquor cabinet. "Something stronger, Aziraphale?" he asks, holding up a glass of Macallan.
Being drunk is the last thing Aziraphale wants, and so he stutters out, "Will you show me your flat first? I'd, uh, like to see it."
Crowley puckers his lips and rocks back on his heels. "There's not much to see, really. It's just a box to keep my stuff."
Aziraphale looks around then and takes note of the pristine furniture, modern and sleek. He owns spotless granite countertops and a 4k television, a glass coffee table in the center of the room. None of these things, he feels, are Crowley, so he gestures at the space and says, “What stuff?”
Crowley makes a gesticulation, a little shrug and head shake which says, I don’t know. He looks around the room and then points to the stone statue at one end of a bird in flight, wings outstretched. “My art?” he says.
He’d forgotten Crowley loved art and remembers the little book with sketches pressed between the pages he’d kept from Italy. He’d particularly liked the sketches of the birds, sparrows and nightingales in free fall, copies of the great da Vinci, and whenever Aziraphale received a new letter, he’d open it with delight.
“Will you show me more?” he asks.
“Yeah, why not?” Crowley says, uncomfortable. He moves to push open the flat-paneled wall, revealing a hall decorated with the most gorgeous plants. A burst of humidity hits them as they enter, though Crowley moves with speed through it. They pass another statue at the end of the hall, and this time Aziraphale stutters at the sight of it, two angels pressed together mid-flight. Their faces show agony… maybe. He can’t quite parse the expression of it, though it leaves his heart racing at the sight of it.
“Come along, I’ll show you my favorite piece,” Crowley says, jarring him from thought. He leads him to the study where a large granite desk sits in front of a golden throne. Aziraphale bites back a smile at the sight of it. This seems more to the demon’s taste, a bit gaudy and colorful in a way Crowley would never admit to liking. He thinks back to the ornate dama he’d bought in Venice that night and flushes with the memory. He’d been so striking.
He turns to see where Crowley’s standing in front of the sketch of the Mona Lisa with a wistful look. Aziraphale joins him and leans in to read the inscription. "This is from da Vinci himself!" he says.
"A parting gift before he departed for France."
"You were in his favor then?"
"Of a sort." Crowley shifts on his feet, jamming his hands into his pockets. "Really, angel, what's all this about then? You've never shown interest in this sort of stuff before."
Aziraphale looks at him then, jaw tense as he wrings his hands. "Then that's my mistake," he says. "Perhaps I should have been."
When Crowley doesn't respond, he inhales a sharp breath and looks about the room for courage. "Look, I must apologise because I was wrong," he starts, his voice a bit too loud and performative. He's begun though; there's no stopping it now. Crowley stares at him. "I didn't think… I didn't think it was possible for you to have free will, bound to Hell as you are. Nor I for that matter, bound to Heaven."
Crowley makes a face at that, a sneer to his lips. Aziraphale hates the look but knows he deserves it. He plows on anyway. "But I imagined, had I had free will, I would have done so many things differently."
"You for starters."
Crowley’s face blanks out, sneer fading and lips parting. His mouth moves for a second in silence as he gropes for words, and then he says, “What does that even mean?”
“That I should like to kiss you,” Aziraphale says, voice stilted.
“If I may be so forward, there’s one room you haven’t shown me yet.”
Crowley licks his teeth, lips pressed together in a thin line. He swallows, his Adam's apple shifting and Aziraphale thinks it’s all been a mistake, that perhaps one drunken night 500 years ago was just that, a drunken night. And then Crowley says, “Yeah all right, it’s just this way,” and moves out of the office and across the hall.
Aziraphale follows him, buzzing inside. In the bedroom, he pushes Crowley towards the bed until his knees back up against the mattress. The demon reaches up in reflex, gripping the lapels of Aziraphale’s coat, and they stand there at the precipice, looking at each other. The silence is punctuated by their short breaths, nose-to-nose. Then Aziraphale reaches up, knowing now how to do this the way Crowley likes, cupping the back of his skull with one hand and his jaw with the other. He kisses him in chaste but firm presses until Crowley softens, and then licks inside his mouth.
Crowley’s knees buckle, and they fall onto the bed, his glasses askew. Aziraphale reaches up to remove them. He’s thought about this now for so long, reimagined that night in Venice in so many different ways in the quiet solitude of his bookshop, but he’s unprepared for the look on Crowley’s face, in his eyes, mirroring want and longing. “Oh, Crowley,” he says, bearing down for another kiss.
Aziraphale moves to pull at the buttons of Crowley’s shirt until they fall away with a tug and a twist of divine intervention. He leans back to look at him, mouth wrecked in a red smear, eyes blown, and chest heaving. He can’t help but drag a hand down the plane of his torso, ghosting over the patch of scales he finds just over one hip of Crowley’s low-slung jeans. He tugs at the belt buckle. "Is this what you want?" he asks.
"Yes, angel, please. I'll do anything,” Crowley says, his voice coming in ragged gasps.
"Anything?” Aziraphale asks again, chest clenching at the stilted nod Crowley gives him. He works open his jeans and leans forward to press his mouth to Crowley’s jaw, nosing up to his earlobe. He bites just as he takes him in hand, and Crowley jerks upwards at the suddenness. “Then listen to me. I should have told you this long ago, I love you.”
Crowley lifts under him, his body moving like water, every inch of serpentine. He pushes up against Aziraphale in a silent plea, but the angel leans down to press their chests together. The only space left between them is where his hand grips him with firm, swift strokes. “I love how good you are, not just the good things you do, but who you are. You do these little miracles when no one is watching just because you want to, and I--like a fool--tried to ignore what you are for so long."
Crowley’s breaths come out in pants, breath hot on Aziraphale’s neck, hands tangled in the collar of his jacket. “What am I, then?” he asks, voice rough. “If you know me so well, what am I?”
"You're so good,” Aziraphale says. “And sweet.” He punctuates each pause with a kiss, his hand keeping pace. “And pure.” Crowley keens into his mouth. “And holy ."
Crowley arches then, eyes widening before squeezing shut. The sound out of him is low and needy, and Aziraphale thinks back to one night in Venice in the dark. It’s better here with the lights on, watching Crowley come. His face goes slack and the skin of his abdomen stretches as he bows. Aziraphale cups his face with both hands, and when he relaxes, Aziraphale leans in to kiss him again, first fervent, slowing into languid wet presses, feeling the body beneath him go limp. He rolls off of him, bringing him with him until Crowley’s tucked against his shoulder, trapping his arm.
“Angel,” Crowley says.
“My dear.” Aziraphale presses his nose against the fine strands of Crowley’s hair and inhales sweat and soil, the faintest hint of petrol and fire. He holds him there until his body grows heavy with sleep.