Actions

Work Header

please, could you be tender?

Work Text:

are you waiting to touch me?

you look so good, but I keep my hands

 


 

One would think--if one had never, in fact, been in a relationship, and had largely gleaned his many, many romantic fantasies from the many, many romantic novels and poems and plays and, yes, occasionally, films one had consumed over the course of three millenia, which tend to end at the passionate confession and triumphant first kiss--that it was the start that was the rough bit. Finally reaching out with a trembling hand to take his beloved’s, to press a kiss to his knuckles and whisper, shaking breath ghosting over his cool skin, I love you. I have loved you. For some time, in fact, my dear, but I was afraid--but, if you asked me to, I could be brave, if you wanted me to be. The way you have been for me. 

That first kiss really had been quite grand; exactly the sort he’d always dreamed-- eat your heart out, Butler, he thought rather viciously; he’d always hated Gone With the Wind, and he’d always known, deep in his heart, Crowley would upstage that admittedly wretchedly fine kiss--Crowley caught his chin with the hand he’d kissed, and he stared down at him with wild, searching eyes. It seemed he found whatever it was he was looking for, because he guided Aziraphale with a gentle hand into a desperate kiss, hand sliding along his jaw to cup it sweetly, his arm going around his waist. It was joyful and clumsy and the explosive relief of six thousand years of yearning; their teeth clacked together, and they pulled apart only to laugh and adjust the angle. Crowley had always been a quick study, and what Aziraphale might lack in natural affinity in any given subject (passion, for one), he made up for in dogged devotion to it.

Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged, he’d thought rather giddily, feeling the heaviness of doubt, of fear, lift for the first time in his long life, replaced by the lightness of certainty. He swelled with love for the man--the demon, the Fallen Angel, the serpent of Eden, the devil himself, it didn’t matter what he was; or it did, it was everything, and he loved him desperately for it, for the hellfire in his veins and the soot-blackness of his wings and the smell of brimstone on his skin, the fading echo of holiness in his essence, the questions he’d had the gall to ask, it all made him Crowley, beautiful, wonderful, infuriating, clever, constant Crowley-- in his arms. There was nothing he trusted so well, not in all the universe. He could spend their eternity like this, kissing him, one hand in his hair and the other on his hip, pulling him impossibly closer. Oh, yes-- the radiance burnt through, the revelation, the religious feeling! All he had ever wanted! To be swept up in the raging tide that was Crowley and his flash zeal for life, carrying him ever-forward, never failing to take him exactly where he wanted to go, even if he didn’t know it yet.

That had been months ago, though, and there had been no more like it.

A brush of lips, sure, a careful kiss on the cheek in farewell. But no trespasses sweetly urged, no soul meeting soul. Crowley was so passionate about everything--passionate in his tirades about traffic, passionate in his enthusiasm for the stars, passionate in his love for the Bentley, passionate in his discipline of his plants--but evidently, not passionate in his love of Aziraphale.

He sat beside him on the sofa in the back room, his favorite bible in his hands. There were several inches of space between them that felt very deliberate, the distance as impassible as an ocean. Crowley was typing very forcefully on his phone in a way that indicated he was trying very hard to get blocked on Twitter by some celebrity or another.

“Crowley,” he said suddenly, and it came out in something of a rushed squeak that hardly resembled his name at all. Crowley’s eyes flickered to him from behind those infernal--literally--glasses, brows raised. Aziraphale blushed and cleared his throat. “Crowley, dearest, how would you like it if I read to you?”

This was the whole point of the evening. He’d spent all day pacing the shop floor, debating whether or not this was foolish and childish and ill-fated, before finally calling Crowley to invite him over without allowing himself to think on it any more. He’d also--just in case--cleaned up the flat upstairs. One never knew. He liked to be optimistic.

Crowley gave one of those warm little smiles, dropping his phone on his chest. “I’d love it, angel.”

“Oh! Wonderful,” Aziraphale started. He’d anticipated Crowley asking why, prepared excuses. “Let’s, ah, let’s see here,” he muttered, as if he hadn’t had his thumb resting in exactly the same spot all night. “Suppose we can simply, pick up where I left off, yes? Yes.

‘The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s,’ ” he began with a shaky voice.

“The--” Crowley’s voice was oddly pitched. “Have you just been sitting there just,” he gestured, “reading the bible all night?”

“Er,” Aziraphale frowned. It had already gone wrong and he hadn’t even started yet. “Well, you know, I like to keep it fresh on the mind.”

Crowley was looking at him like he had grown a second head. “And now you want to read the bible to me?”

“Er,” Aziraphale said, again. “Could you just--look, see, it’s the bible you had made for me.”

Crowley softened, but he didn’t lose the incredulous twist to his mouth. “Yes, as an apology for being an ass, and then I had it sent to you because I can’t physically touch it. Being a demon, and all.”

“Quite,” Aziraphale said faintly. This was not going how he had thought it might. It was a moment he had imagined so many times, and in his many daydreams, Crowley had been the one to ask, a bit shyly, eyes bare, read me the Song of Songs, angel? and he laid his head in Aziraphale’s lap, letting him card his fingers through his spill of wine-red hair. He did not look at Aziraphale like it was the strangest idea he’d ever heard, or keep at least six inches between them all night until their chaste nightly farewell kiss. Aziraphale closed the bible, a lump in his throat. “Yes, you’re right, dear, my apologies.”

“No,” Crowley said quickly, and stammered. “All I meant--I was surprised. I was just surprised, is all, I mean, I’d like it.” He looked away. “I’d like it, if you read to me.”

“You don’t have to let me,” Aziraphale said softly. “I--I just thought it might be--nice, I don’t know. But it was--”

“It would be,” Crowley said, eyes returning to him. After a moment of hesitation, he reached out and took Aziraphale’s hand, careful not to touch the bible. Their clasped hands rested on Aziraphale’s knee, another shining place touched. “It’d be--I’d like it, I’ve wanted you to. For a while.”

Aziraphale brightened. “You have?”

Crowley nodded, embarrassed. His eyes scanned the ceiling. “Yeah.”

“I’ve wanted to,” Aziraphale said, relieved. With the hand not holding Crowley’s, he opened the bible again, paging back to the Song of Songs. Ordinarily, he’d never handle such an old book so carelessly, especially one so dear to him, but--well, these weren’t ordinary circumstances. Crowley was holding his hand, after all, and if he damaged the little bible, he was certain the contact would help him recover. “I’ve wanted to for a long time.”

“‘Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine,’” Aziraphale read. Holding Crowley’s hand was as wonderful as he’d always thought; his fingers fit perfectly through Aziraphale’s, and though his hand was cool, the point of contact was as warm as if he held his hands up to a fire, soft and sweet and melodic, kind and loving and everything he’d craved.

And oh, how he’d craved; not necessarily Lust--alright, yes, Lust, on occasion, but really, was it Lust if it was also Love? He thought not--but even this. The simplest touch, skin against skin, an anchor to Earth and to Crowley. It was good that he really did keep scripture fresh on the mind, because he was hardly paying attention to the words he was saying, and instead his whole mind and heart were in his hand and on his knee, that comfort like a downy blanket. “My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies,” he read, and he might as well have whispered to him, voice heavy with urgent want, How is it that we know what we are? / If not by the air / between any hand and its want--touch (it would be helpful to know that Aziraphale did in fact have a subscription to the New Yorker, though often it piled up unread in some corner of the bookshop, as is the fate of most copies of the New Yorker). 

“By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not,” he read. This is my knee, since you touch me there, he could say, just as easily, the same tongue could form the words. 

“Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.” His voice was rougher than it ought to be, for a bit of light reading, he knew, but his hand! His knee! He could hardly focus on saying the right words, much less saying them correctly. 

“A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.” This is my hand, as defined by your reaching. He wasn’t looking at Crowley; he was sure if he looked, his restraint would collapse; he would throw himself into his arms, kiss him senseless, and that--well, that wouldn’t do. Was the shaking breath he heard his, or--if he dared to even think it--Crowley’s? His thumb slid along Crowley’s.

“Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out.” I am touched--I am. “Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.”

Crowley’s hand ripped out of his, so quickly it brushed the bible, and Crowley yelped, cradling it to his chest as he jumped to his feet.

“Crowley! Are you alright?” Aziraphale put the bible down, getting to his feet. He took a step towards him, concern banishing the haze from his mind. Crowley took a step back, and hurt panged in Aziraphale’s chest.

“Yesss, I’m fine,” Crowley hissed. “I need to, it’ssss late, isssn’t it? Yeah, yeah, I think it’sss late, I’ll jusst, tomorrow? Lunch is good? I’ll come round at noon, thankss for the, your, bye” and he was out the door, the bell ringing violently.

“Ah,” Aziraphale said into the empty air. Embarrassment, too-familiar, pooled heavy in his stomach, making his chest feel tight. Had he really thought he might seduce Crowley with--with the Song of Songs? Really. Really. “Fool,” Aziraphale muttered to himself, and he definitely did not throw himself onto the couch, or indulge in prodding at the sting of rejection. He was far more dignified than that.

He also did not, because he was not a lovesick teenager, push his face into the throw pillow Crowley had been leaning against all evening and now held his scent, did not ache at how the smell was like the ghost of Crowley’s hand in his, nearly enough to chase away that longing for his touch, but not quite enough.

 

Crowley did, much to Aziraphale’s relief, appear the next afternoon, looking for all the world like nothing had happened the night before. Lunch was as lovely as always, as was their stroll through St. James’ Park, so little distance between them, Aziraphale practically glowed with it. 

His hand brushed Crowley’s, and his heart skipped--being unnecessary to his survival and entirely at Aziraphale’s command, it did quite literally skip, because he expected it to--and brushed again, a drag of their fingers--

And then Crowley cleared his throat, putting a few inches between them again, and Aziraphale fixed his eyes on the sidewalk, determined not to be upset. Really, he shouldn’t have expected more; they were six thousand years old, not sixteen and full of hormones and little restraint. If there were a honeymoon phase in a relationship, they were well past it, and must have now settled into the chaste contentment of older people with no need to prove a love that had been proven over and over. It was a more mature love. A more dignified love. Really, a purer love, wasn’t it? No need for consummation or expression on this plane; their love existed so far beyond the physical, it simply wasn’t necessary. He didn’t need Crowley to hold his hand as they walked, or wrap him up in a passionate embrace, to know he loved him. He didn’t need to be desired to be loved.

But wouldn’t it be so nice--

Yes, that was quite the issue, wasn’t it? Nice. It would be very nice, and Crowley did not like to be nice. He was kind, and considerate, and well-mannered, and generous, and all of that added up to something that resembled nice, but Crowley didn’t like to do the math. He liked to couch all of those qualities in sarcasm and flash and aloofness, and in doing so, stop quite short of anything nice.

Like holding hands in the park.

Or doing very not-nice things with his frumpy librarian of a nice boyfriend in the privacy of that boyfriend’s bedroom. Or his own bedroom! Or the backroom of the bookshop, or in the backseat of the Bentley, or, hell, the Ritz’s bathroom. Really, at this point, in this one singular area of his life, Aziraphale wasn’t picky.

It doesn’t have to be nice, he wanted to say. If you don’t want it to be. I can compromise on the particulars, if you’d just touch me.

Perhaps that was the problem, then. Maybe Crowley had preferences he didn’t think Aziraphale was up to. Aziraphale had always imagined that Crowley would be very gentle about it all, given the way he indulged in Aziraphale with that soft twist of his mouth, the sweet slide of his hand over the Bentley’s hood, how he handled the leaves and blooms of his plants with a practiced delicacy that belied a certain affection, even of the tough-love variety.

But Crowley, ever-complicated, had surprised him before.

 

Aziraphale was not, contrary to popular belief, especially innocent. He had never had sex himself, but not for lack of opportunity. It just seemed quite...vulnerable. Intimate. A lot of trust to put in someone, to show them every part of himself, trust them to make him feel good, and even more, trust himself to make them feel good. Trust them not to resent him if he couldn’t. There was only one person he trusted that much, and even that was quite daunting. Crowley had certainly had others, and those others were probably better and more experienced than Aziraphale.

But he was not an innocent. He’d been around humans for six thousand years. He’d paid exorbitant fees to attend a discrete gentleman’s club for most of the 1880s; he’d frequented molly houses in the eighteenth century for the coffee and conversation and company; he’d been dear friends with Oscar Wilde for fifteen years. He had, as a point of fact, been acquainted with one Algernon Charles Swinburne, who had stopped him from attacking Rossetti upon word that the wretched man had exhumed Lizzie’s body to retrieve poems he’d buried with her.

He sat now with a volume of the man’s poetry, taking studious notes. “‘I would find grievous ways to have thee slain, / Intense pain, and suflex of pain…’‘Strain out thy soul with pangs too soft to kill.’” He blinked, paling. “Good lord.” It didn’t seem like Crowley, but--well, it certainly wasn’t nice. And it didn’t seem like he would have to do much more than bear it. I am weary of all thy words and soft strange ways.

Yes, perhaps scourge thee, sweetest, for my sake, was more to Crowley’s comfort than my lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand / to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss. Or at least he may take less offense to it than he had to an invitation to Aziraphale’s garden. The very reminder turned him red, and he dove back into his research to put it back out of his mind.

 

Pain made perfect on thy lips / for my sake when I hurt thee was the name of the evening, Aziraphale reminded himself. He read Dolores, Our Lady of Pain one last time on the bus to Mayfair, and sat nervously on the bus bench once he’d debarked at the stop nearest Crowley’s flat, pouring over his notes again. He’d even booted up his old computer, fussing with the dial up Internet--the shop did not, in fact, have dial up internet anymore, as Aziraphale had only used the old computer Crowley had bought him once, to buy a book from an online seller in 1997 who had actually been attempting to steal his identity and was quite confused to find that he didn’t really have one, and never again, but Aziraphale expected it to, and so it did--and he’d nearly filled an entire box of parchment with notes from his books and the Internet over the past week.

He had hardly seen Crowley over the course of that week, which was regrettable, but he could hardly look him in the eye when he’d been reading about human furniture all night; and Crowley could tell, easily, when something was off with Aziraphale, and got all concerned, with that soft, worried look, the turn of his brow, the hurt pinch of his mouth when Aziraphale refused to say what.

He had also not told Crowley that he was coming, partly for fear that he would lose his nerve the moment he heard his voice, but also because spontaneity was sexy. The appearance of spontaneity, anyway. Surely it could become more spontaneous, as they got used to it. If Crowley liked it.

Pain made perfect on thy lips / for my sake when I hurt thee, he reminded himself again in the elevator up to Crowley’s floor, and again as he knocked on the door.

Crowley opened it in low-slung black sweatpants and a Queen t-shirt, looking irate for a moment until he registered who was at the door. “Angel?”

“Crowley!” he said, in a tone far too excited, as if they had encountered each other unintentionally on the street. “Er, I mean, good evening, dear. How are you?”

“I’m,” Crowley said, blinking at him from behind his glasses. He was wearing, Aziraphale noticed, a soft brown knit cardigan he was quite certain had gone missing from the bookshop recently. Crowley seemed to notice this at the same moment Aziraphale did, because his cheeks turned pink, and he cleared his throat, moving about a bit as if motion would throw Aziraphale’s recognition off. “I’m fine. Do you...want to come in?”

“I’d love to, thank you,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley led him inside. His flat was so cold and austere. Aziraphale clutched his old leather briefcase to himself, as if the plaid neck scarf wrapped around its handle could chase away the sharp monochrome edges. He really ought to have left the thing at home, but he’d wanted to study until the last possible moment. 

“Tea?” Crowley asked, shifting awkwardly. He was barefoot, Aziraphale noticed, and he suddenly felt like an intruder, showing up at Crowley’s flat, unannounced, at a rather impolite and informal hour.

“No, thank you,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley arched one brow. “Ah, well, I was in the neighborhood, you see.”

“In Mayfair?” Crowley asked. “At nine o’clock?”

“Yes,” Aziraphale said. “So I thought I’d stop in.” He waved a hand, feeling very foolish. “Ah, you know. Spontaneously.”

Crowley’s other brow joined its brother near his hairline. “Spontaneously? You?”

Aziraphale blushed. “Yes, Crowley, I can be spontaneous, you know.”

“Really?” He gave him a lopsided and teasing smile. “I’ve known you six thousand years, I’ve never seen you be spontaneous.”

“I’m spontaneous!”

“If you say so,” Crowley said, lifting his hands. “Suppose there was the incident with the sword.”

“And coming to earth discorporated,” Aziraphale added. “And, ah. Tonight. Coming here. At night.”

“It’s dark out,” Crowley agreed.

The poetry had not mentioned it would be this awkward.

“I was, uh,” Crowley said, gesturing behind Aziraphale, and he turned, feeling even more embarrassed when he saw that Netflix was paused on the Good Place. “Watching the Good Place. You want to join me?”

“I had,” Aziraphale squeaked, and cleared his throat again. “I had other ideas, about what we might do, tonight.”

Crowley went very still, which was very odd. He was constantly in motion. Standing still for Crowley was more just occupying the same square foot of space while he shifted around and fidgeted, but he went really, properly still. He licked his lips. “You do?”

“Yes,” Aziraphale breathed, eyes tracing the swipe of his pink tongue. It both settled him and unnerved him further; the desire to touch him, to be touched, was greater, but the specifics became more real.

“Care to,” Crowley swallowed hard, gestured. “Elaborate?”

Aziraphale carefully lowered his briefcase to the ground and took a step towards Crowley, encouraged when he didn’t step back. He took another step, and Crowley remained still, his eyes so wide behind his sunglasses Aziraphale could see them even in the dim light, illuminated only by the pale light of Tahani’s white dress on the screen.

Another step, and he was close enough to slowly wind his arms around Crowley’s neck, fingers toying lightly with the hair at the nape of his neck. Crowley’s breathing hitched, which Aziraphale thought was probably a good sign. “I am not too weak to bear these hands and lips of yours,” Aziraphale said, voice shaking.

“Uh,” Crowley said, his voice hoarse, “what?”

“You know,” Aziraphale said, blushing, and thought how to phrase it. He’d had such a detailed script, trees of possible routes the conversation could take, but Crowley just smelled so good, like incense and maple and brimstone, it was hard to focus. “Make pain perfect on my lips / for your sake when you hurt me,” he decided.

“You what?” Crowley spluttered, leaning back a bit, but he didn’t move away. His hands had settled carefully around Aziraphale’s waist. “Sssorry, could you, would you, explain?”

Aziraphale stood on his tiptoes to put his mouth by Crowley’s ear, unable to look at him. “Desecrate me,” he whispered, and Crowley made a punched-out sound, his arms tightening around his waist.

“Are you sssure, angel?” he asked, and Aziraphale nodded.

He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting, but it wasn’t for Crowley to relax into him, press a soft kiss to the corner of his jaw, his cheek, and finally his lips, a fragile thing, his hand rising to cup his cheek. Aziraphale melted into the kiss, giddy with it, until Crowley pulled back, taking his hand and backing towards the door to his bedroom, keeping his eyes on Aziraphale all the way, as if he was afraid that if he looked away for even a moment, he’d disappear.

The only time he’d been in Crowley’s bedroom was the night after the almost-Apocalypse, pretending to sleep beneath the duvet while Crowley slept on top of it, and all he could think of until sunrise was how near he was.

He had big, floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the city, but with a snap of his fingers, blinds descended, plunging the room into darkness but for a lamp beside the bed, casting a cold light. “You’re ssure?” Crowley said again, pulling him closer, and Aziraphale, smiling now, nodded. Crowley kissed him, deeper than he had in the living room, as his hands leisurely unbuttoned his waistcoat, his tongue sliding along Aziraphale’s bottom lip, and he shivered, holding back a whine. He broke the kiss to begin untying his bowtie with slow and nearly-reverent fingers, and Aziraphale bit his lip.

“You don’t have to be,” he gestured, and the nervous movement ended up smacking Crowley in the chest, earning him an offended look. “Sorry, sorry, dear. I, erm, you don’t have to be gentle, is all.”

Crowley gave him an odd look. “I want to be,” he said. “Er, do you...not want me to be?”

“I--” Aziraphale blushed, wondering what he should say. Never mind, dear boy, keep with the soft touches, and then perhaps this never happens again because it’s too boring for you, or, no, let’s dispense with all the sweet romance I’ve always dreamed of, and get on with the business of drinking from my veins like wine.

“I don’t have to be,” he said, frowning, but he didn’t sound terribly excited about it.

“I didn’t think you’d want to be, is all,” Aziraphale said. He felt rather lost. “You know, with the, niceness, and all.”

“Oh,” Crowley said, and he blushed. “I mean, I’m not nice, you’ve got the right of it there, but I don’t. I don’t want to be,” his head tilted, and he stammered for a moment before settling on, “not nice, to you.”

“Wait,” Aziraphale said, leaning back to get a better look at Crowley. “Then--why don’t you want to--you know.” 

“I don’t know,” Crowley drawled. “What don’t I want to do with you? Enlighten me.”

“You know,” Aziraphale insisted, eyes cutting away. “Things.”

“Things?” Crowley arched one brow at him. “These are things. I thought you didn’t want to do things.”

“Why wouldn’t I want to do things?” Aziraphale started.

“Because,” Crowley spluttered, stepping back. “Things are, you know, fast.”

“But I kissed you,” Aziraphale said. “I told you, I’m ready now.”

“You didn’t kiss me,” Crowley said, frowning. “I kissed you.”

“Well,” Aziraphale said, considering that for a moment. “Yes, I suppose so, but I started it. I told you I love you.”

“Kissing my hand and telling me you love me isn’t exactly the same thing as jumping into bed with me,” Crowley pointed out. “I got--caught up--and I kissed you, and I thought you’d, I don’t know,” he gestured. “You know, be all sad and Aziraphale about it. So I didn’t do it again.”

“I didn’t, though,” Aziraphale said, disbelieving. “I’ve kissed you!”

“Kind of,” Crowley groused, and then his mouth pinched. “Sorry, I--that wasn’t good, that’s not what I meant. I like what we do, I really do. It's more than I ever thought I'd have.”

“So you want to do more than the,” Aziraphale considered how to put it, and instead just leaned in to demonstrate the soft, closed-mouth pecks of the past months. “More than that?”

Crowley bit at the corner of his lip and shifted. “I want whatever you want,” he said at last.

“Crowley, that’s not an answer,” Aziraphale said, exasperated.

“It is,” he rolled his eyes, and Aziraphale tutted.

“Could you take your glasses off, please, dearest? I’d rather like to see your eyes properly for this,” he said.

Crowley sighed and took them off, tucking them into the pocket of the cardigan. “It is an answer,” he said. “It’s my answer. I don't want anything you aren't ready for."

"But if I'm ready for...things, you are too?"

"Clearly," Crowley said, gesturing to indicate that he had already, in fact, agreed, and Aziraphale had to concede that.

"Why did you run off when I tried to read the Song of Songs, then?" Aziraphale frowned.

"Because," Crowley said, his ears turning nearly as red as his hair. "I didn't want to go too fast for you, and I was about to go very, very fast."

How different from what he had assumed! It warmed Aziraphale, and he teased, "I was reading you the Song of Songs, dear, how much clearer could I have been?"

Crowley stared at him. "Much clearer, Aziraphale! Almost anything would've been clearer than reading scripture to me! I'm not even sure what you're trying to say!"

"Really, dear, how much clearer does it get than 'my Beloved thrust his hand into the opening, / and my inmost being yearned for him'?" Aziraphale was beginning to wonder if it was physically possible for even his divine form to blush any more without fainting. Surely the cheeks could only hold so much blood.

Crowley swallowed hard, gaze shifting. "I don't know, Aziraphale, some people say it's about God and the church."

"Don't be ridiculous, dear," he said. "It's about erotic desire."

Crowley stared at him. "Angel, were you trying to seduce me with the Song of Songs?"

"It," Aziraphale said, and cleared his throat. "It was perhaps a factor."

A smile bloomed across his face, one of those soft and radiant things he wore more and more now, and he wrapped one arm around Aziraphale's waist, his other hand coming up to cradle his cheek again. "I can't believe you were seducing me with the Song of Songs and I didn't even realize."

That...hurt, a bit. "Yes, yes, it wasn't the most successful seduction in history," he muttered.

"I wouldn't say that," Crowley said, huffing a laugh. "You certainly...inspired Lust, if that was the intention, I just didn't think you realized. Or would want to. So I left." His mouth twitched. “I panicked, a bit.”

An embarrassed smile played at the corner of his mouth. "Really?"

"Angel," Crowley said, "I've been fantasizing about you reading the Song of Songs to me since the blessed thing was written. It was literally a dream come true. I have literally had that dream."

"I've thought about it too," he said, biting his lip. "I thought you...I don't know. Didn't want to do that, with me."

"Of course I want to do that," Crowley snorted. "Be serious. How much clearer could I have been? You're the hottest thing since that sword you gave away, which is, incidentally, the first time I noticed."

"I have to disagree with you there, dear," Aziraphale said, feeling giddy and coy and just a bit like a lovesick teenager. "I think that honor belongs to you."

Crowley ducked his head to hide his grin. "Shuddup."

"Beautiful, handsome, charming, alluring, dear," he said, beaming, and kissed him, as slow and deep as he wanted, feeling the knot in his chest loosen at last.

“Angel,” Crowley said, hardly putting any distance between them to say it. “Do you really want to...?”

“Make love?” Aziraphale whispered, and Crowley nodded. “I--yes, my dear, but, I’ve done a bit of research, you see, and if--if you’re amenable, I would prefer that we didn’t, er.”

“Er?” Crowley prompted, teasing, and Aziraphale pursed his lips.

“I’m not particularly interested in all the, ah,” he gestured vaguely, “you know, the pain. We could, if you really wanted to, but--if you really are alright waiting, perhaps we could, I don’t know, give it a go without all that, at least the first time?”

Crowley blinked at him. “The pain?”

“The flogging and what not,” he said, and Crowley jumped as if startled.

“Flogging? For Adam’s sake, angel, what the heaven have you been reading?”

“Swinburne, mostly,” Aziraphale said, turning red. “You never met him. He was an odd fellow. But the Internet, as well. And books.”

“I don’t,” Crowley said, blinking again, “I’m not. I’m not interested in flogging. Or anything of the sort.”

Aziraphale brightened. “Oh, you’re not? That’s such a relief, dear boy, I was worried--”

“You thought I wanted to be flogged?” Crowley asked, his voice very high. “You were reading about people getting flogged?”

“Well,” he said, feeling very foolish once again, “I rather thought you might want to, er. Do the flogging. I thought, since you don’t like doing nice things like--like holding hands in the park, or the Song of Songs, maybe you liked. That sort of thing.”

“Why in Satan’s name would you think I didn’t like holding hands in the park?” Crowley sighed. “I’d love to hold hands in the park. I thought you didn’t want to hold hands in the park.”

“Why would you think I didn’t want to--”

“We’re getting nowhere,” Crowley said impatiently. “No, I don’t want to--to flog you, angel, Christ-- Anti- Christ-- something, whatever, I just want to suck you off or something. Just sex. We can figure out more specifics from there, but--no, I don’t want that. What have you been researching?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Aziraphale lied, and Crowley gave him a Look.

“Is that why I haven’t seen you all week?” Crowley demanded. “Because you’ve been reading about some guy who likes to get flogged? Because you just assumed that’s what I’d want to do, instead of, I don’t know, just asking me?”

Aziraphale cast about for something to say that wasn’t admitting to exactly that. “Why are you wearing my cardigan?”

Crowley froze. “What?”

“That’s mine, I made it,” Aziraphale insisted, and Crowley seemed to find the ceiling suddenly very interesting. He muttered something. “What’s that?”

“I missed you,” he muttered, just a little louder, and Aziraphale beamed at him. “Shuddup, when I came by to see you the other day and you blew me off, I saw it on your chair, and I--grabbed it.”

“Why didn’t you just say you missed me, dear boy?” Aziraphale asked, feeling quite warm.

“I dunno, didn’t want to be clingy. Get in your space.” He thought for a moment. “I think we need to work on our communication skills,” he said. “Maybe.”

“Maybe,” Aziraphale laughed, resting his forehead on Crowley’s chest. “How about this: if we’re upset with each other, or we want something, before we get too upset about it, we just tell each other. Don’t worry about going too fast for me, I--I’ll tell you if you are.”

Crowley rested his cheek on the top of Aziraphale’s head. “You won’t...run off?”

Aziraphale shook his head, guilt gnawing at him. “No, darling. Not anymore. I told you, I’m going to be brave.”

“And you won’t just assume things?” Crowley asked. “Like that I don’t want to hold your hand?” As if to reassure him, he took Aziraphale’s hand with the one that wasn’t around his waist.

“I just worry about,” he pursed his lips. “You know, that you won’t want something.”

“I’ll tell you if I don’t,” he said. “Like the flogging. I don’t want the flogging. Or the sweet pain or whatever you were talking about. Just. Let’s take it slow.”

“But do you like the hand holding?” Aziraphale insisted. “And the kissing? The--the proper kissing, not the small ones.”

“Yeah, angel,” he said. They were swaying a bit now, Aziraphale’s cheek against his chest, Crowley’s on his head, his arm around him, holding hands, and he brought them up to show him. It was a bit like dancing, Aziraphale thought, and smiled. Not very good dancing, but it doesn’t have to be, when it’s just two lovers, pressed together in a dim and mostly-empty room. They’re too close to see, and there’s no one else to look, and so it’s just a feeling. A lovely one. “I’ve wanted to hold your hand since the blessed flood. And don’t get me started on the kissing.”

“I’d like to get you started on the kissing,” he said, and Crowley laughed into his hair. “But...what about dancing?”

“You want to dance, angel?” he asked coyly, and when Aziraphale nodded, he spun them clumsily around, his feet stepping on Aziraphale’s, scuffing his brogues, and they laughed.

“Music?” Aziraphale asked, and he felt Crowley smile. He gave a lazy snap of his fingers with the hand on Aziraphale’s waist, and jazz music swelled from those improbable speakers that knew better than to defy Crowley’s expectation that they be heard perfectly well anywhere he happened to be standing. “Sinatra!” he said, pleased.

“Wow,” Crowley said, breaking apart just long enough to let a blushing Aziraphale twirl, “a song from 1924, that’s absolutely modern, for you.”

“I know modern music,” Aziraphale protested. He hummed along with the opening lyrics, and said with a smile he hid in Crowley’s shirt, “Are you trying to tell me something, dear? ‘Why do I do just as you say / Why must I just give you your way?’”

Crowley groaned, good-natured. “Don’t start analyzing the music, angel.” He was quiet for a bit as they swayed. “If you do, it’s the chorus people remember.”

Aziraphale hummed. “Quite right, dear. It did have to be you.”

He closed his eyes and simply allowed himself to bask in their closeness, how it eased something yearning inside him, in Crowley’s steady heartbeat beneath his ear, the familiar and comforting smell of him, the way he felt in his arms. It felt quite foolish, that he could’ve had this tender and contented moment months ago, if he’d only just asked for it. Quite foolish indeed.