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left with no trace, as if not spoken to

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"what good is it
to be the lime burner's daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
peeler's wife. Smell me."
Michael Ondaatje, The Cinnamon Peeler

 

London
1601

 

There is the echo of the actors on the wood stage, the beams of the Globe Theatre. There is the steady hush of the crowd. This murmur, the sound of cracked hazelnuts. The theatre is still fairly recently built, still a novelty. Everyone comes. Maybe there’s a slight bit of demonic encouragement, a downstairs miracle perhaps. The crowd is packed, groundlings pushed tight together and rapt at the stage. Crowley is quietly grateful for Aziraphale’s insistence on purchasing seats. They sit back in their chairs, well-set in shadow.

"It's busy," Aziraphale says, looking out at the crowds.

"Mmm, can't imagine how that happened. Heard it'd take a miracle to get anyone to see Hamlet."

"Yes, well, I'm very thankful." 

"Shut up," Crowley mutters. Aziraphale smiles a bit, leans over. Crowley watches the light shift on his face, the shadows cut deeper over the nasal bridge, into the dip of his eyes, the paling over the zygomatic arch. He becomes incredibly aware of their dark corner. The weight of shadow. Aziraphale puts his hand on the arm of Crowley's chair, closing in as if to share an observation, to tell a secret. A private joke. His hand touches Crowley's. Deliberate, measured. This space between them keenly known. Aziraphale's small finger moves out a little, traces up along the side of Crowley's palm. He shivers, tries not to.

"Do you - ?" Aziraphale whispers.

"Angel, fuck -" Crowley says, mutters, spits into the air. Careful even now. If someone is listening, it could mean anything, could be about anything. Aziraphale tilts his head. The finger drifts a bit, moves higher. Up toward the sleeve. Slow and paced. Aziraphale swallows and his eyes are wide, a man set before a feast and tucking his napkin in, readying his knife. Waiting to be served.

"Satan, yes." Yeah, I want it. You. Come on, please.

 


 

This is not the first time. He's been fucked by hand before, has fucked like this. The first time there in the year 781, there against the wall of the inn. Both of them in town for a coronation, a drop of an iron crown. Italy had rolled on outside the windows of the inn and they had been drunk, drunk, drunk, the both of them drunk. " We can't do this," Aziraphale had said then, pulling himself from Crowley, untangling their atoms, their fingers, their hair. "Hell will destroy you if they find out."

They had been out that night drinking. Just the two of them together. Drinking up the wine and snacking on imported fruit. Aziraphale had eaten all the pears, had mentioned they were his favorite. Prefer apples myself, Crowley had groused, pears get all over you. Mess of a thing. But Aziraphale prefers pears so Crowley had found a bowl and miracled it full of them. Bartletts, yes, and Anjou too. Bosc and Seckel. Whatever you need, anything you like. Ready, ripe, waiting. A bit of flesh, a bit of skin. You can just pick one up, hand in the bowl, finger on the fruit. Take a bite, sink through. We don't have to talk about it, just take one. They're waiting. They're yours.

 


 

"Come here. Lean closer."

Crowley moves closer, turning his seat as if overcome with new interest for Act II. Nods, his mouth tight and sealed. His hair falls a little against his face, his cheekbones. He watches Aziraphale watching. 

"Sure, angel," he whispers. 

"Shh, the audience should be quiet," Aziraphale says, thrown out under his breath. Crowley closes his eyes. Takes a deep breath. They are close and pressed together. It is dark and they are shadowed. No one is watching. Aziraphale's hand steals across his lap, snaking under the black fabric of Crowley's clothing, weaving its way between his thighs. It has been years, decades even, since they have last touched. He might burn up, turn into a pile of ash. His own heat reflects back at him, caught by his heavy clothing, his dark collar. 

Crowley looks at Aziraphale. Sees that he isn't watching the stage. His head is turned, his eyes caught with blue and copperlight and mouth open. Hungry. Starving. Let me feed you, let me feast on you. Aziraphale's hands don't touch him, not quite. They move over his skin, the skin of his hips and thighs, a fingerwalk survey of what is already his. What always has been. Crowley lets his teeth shoveldig into the soft of his own bottom lip, into his tongue. Don't say a word. Don't ruin it. (Don't say anything, not where they could be heard. Don't say, I have wandered the earth since I left the garden and under Home Address, I have always just written your name .)

The audience should be quiet. Let's listen. There is the sound of Hamlet's soliloquy. There is the sound of hazelnuts ground between teeth. Of boots on the rush-strewn dirt floor. And this careful stirring of fabric, this wind-rattle of Crowley's own blood. 

Don't make a sound.

 


 

This is not the second time. He's had Aziraphale in his fist before. There in 1210 at the market, the press of bodies to watch a little traveling show. There had been loose tunics then, tied breeches. It had been so easy, so so easy. The hitch of breath, his long-drawn fingers. Let's go slow, there's plenty of time, the show's nowhere near over. No one is watching.

"Is this alright?" Crowley had asked, pressed close to Aziraphale. Pressed just behind him, one hand sneaking past a hem and his own hardcrush self pressing into Aziraphale.

Aziraphale had leaned back into him, had shivered, whispered "Yes, if we're careful. We cannot be seen. I cannot risk Heaven or Hell, they could show up at any time -"

"They'll never know, angel. We'll be careful."

Crowley knows Aziraphale's cock by touch. Knows the pulse of the vein, how to measure a heartbeat with his fingers there. Knows how it jumps when he first grazes it, slow and teasing. As if his hands have anywhere else to be. He has never seen it, never seen Aziraphale naked. (He knows taste and smell. After, walking back alone to his room, he pulls his hand to his nose, breathes in the saltsour of him, still damp between the fingers. Licks it off.)

Don't speak. Don't say anything. Sound is trouble. (Crowley has fallen foul of sound before. He had asked questions, sounded them out. He has tasted the acid of sound.)

 


 

"You need to be silent," Aziraphale murmurs, hushed. "You can do that for me, can't you? You're so good at that." So good, keep saying that, yeah. Call me good. Tell me what I can do for you. God, I'll be good for you. Let me fuck you. Let me, please, I want to sink into your body. You can climb into me. I want to have you in every bedroom across the city, across the world. Every bed should smell like you, you and me and tangled sheets and the fucked-salt air. I want to hear you. I haven't ever heard you. Not like I want (I want you to hear me). 

This hand, this hand moving on him. Aziraphale doesn't know the inside of Crowley's mouth but he knows the cockbeat rhythm to hit the right spot. Aziraphale is a good student, wide-eyed and attentive. He has learned Crowley like a lesson, knows the right curves to linger on, the pace of the dance. When to push and when to pull. His fingers work miracles. Crowley lets a small sound out. Aziraphale tightens his grip. Still, be still. Focus on each part, still as death. Rigor mortis. Crowley starts with his crown, his neck, his shoulders, on and on and on. Stilling each muscle, holding them taut. Focus on breathing. In and out, in and out. (a hand on him, in and out, up and down, fast and slow.) Breathe. One, two, three, four.

"This play really is marvelous, isn't it?" Aziraphale turns to Crowley, asking with warm breath. Too close. No one is watching. "It's so good, so well done."

Crowley tightens his jaw. Clenches his teeth. His eyelid twitches. Be silent. Don't make a sound. Don't move. 

"And the audience," Aziraphale whispers, "They're so good, so quiet. I'm so proud of them. They haven't said a word, have they?"

Stay still. No one can know.

 


 

This is not the third time. The third time was in a river. The third time they were looking for ferrous sulfate to make iron-gall ink with. Aziraphale would bring it back to the scriptorium later. Illuminate manuscripts with it, glorify God, yes, with stones pulled from water with demon-fisted hands. Crowley had reached first that time (it had been so many years), his hands safe under the river, brushing at Aziraphale's hip. 

"Oh," Aziraphale had said, pausing. 

"They don't look underwater. Do they?"

"I don't suppose," Aziraphale had looked doubtfully at the surface of the water, brushed his fingers across. Tested the surface tension. "I mean, fish souls aren't the usual sort that Heaven's minding."

"That's my point. They don't look here.

"I think you might be very right there, my dear," Aziraphale had said. Crowley had watched Aziraphale very intently, counting the breaths, the measure of a minute, the way Aziraphale's hands had slipped underwater, taking hold of his own. Their fingers weaving together like thread on a loom, over and under. In and out.

"C'mere then," Crowley murmured, moving through the shallows. The air had sounded with long leaves of grass and reeds brushing up against each other like their bare legs here, here in the water. Aziraphale's hip had moved toward him, the wet fabric of his breeches floating against Crowley in the current like seaweed. There are monks further down the banks but there is nothing untoward here. Just two men waistdeep in the river, looking for stones. 

"Oh," Aziraphale had punched out then as Crowley's hand had tightened, brushed under the tip, that roughsoft spot that he has learned, learned to tease and touch and press, yes. 

"Don't," Crowley had hissed, sharp words and gentle-fingered. Writing love into a wristflick. He had held up Aziraphale by the press of his own thigh when Aziraphale had come, had sucked in a silent breath, suddenly bent his cloudpale head back and slammed his eyes shut. Yeah, just like that, angel. Let me do that for you. Come for me on my own hand. If this is all I get to have of you (all you get to have of me), I'll take it. Every time. I'll order it forever. When they had left the river, it had dripped from them like stars. Crowley had watched the silverwater drip off of Aziraphale's legs, his arms, his neck. Wanted to reach out and kiss it there, to put the stars all back where they had fallen from.

 


 

"Careful, careful," Aziraphale says, low under his breath. His hand tightens on Crowley's cock, slow and steady and spitwet. Do you want me to be a ruin? I'll be a ruin for you, if you like (if you let me). Jesus fucking Christ, angel. He's there, right at the end, that fastfuck fist deft and quiet, knowing how to move the fingers and not just the wrist. How to minimize movement, keep the fabric dark and still in front of them. Crowley tries to breathe, tries to keep his hips from snapshot-rutting into Aziraphale's grip. He bites his lip, the meat of it there under sharp teeth. Watches the crowd. Hamlet's up on stage, no one is watching them. No one. 

"Oh, it's almost over, isn't it?" Aziraphale says, "The play. Are you nearly ready? To go?"

He nods, small and slight. This bit of please, yeah, you've got me right on the edge. Just a little bit more, please, keep going, don't stop, keep touching me (touch me forever). Let's run away, we can hide in secret places, secret passages. You can crawl inside me, I'll take you in (my mouth, my body), make you a hidden room. His thighs are hot, Aziraphale's hand is fast in the filth-wet that's poured from him already. This hand curled tightly around him, bone and skin. Curled like an apostrophe. (Apostrophes can indicate ownership. Please, please, mark me, make me yours. Write Aziraphale's across me, press your fingernails in. Bruise me. When I stumble back to my room, when I catch myself later, let me see your name on me. I'll remember then. I won't doubt.)

Crowley doesn't watch the play but Aziraphale says don't be obvious, so he stares straight ahead. Keeps himself perfectly steady, keeps the words in. He doesn't move save for the twitch of his teethclenched jaw. Staring at the stage and seeing nothing. Held in the heat of Aziraphale's wet hand, the stroke even there, moving quicker, faster, wetter, yes. His heartbeat a warning like a steam vent threatening an eruption. He will come, it will be soon. Even volcanoes tremble before they blow, before they go off. Mount St. Helens warned us days in advance. Vesuvius had too. Crowley shakes, a glass on a shelf ready to fall. To shatter. Earthquake-ruin. 

"It really is so beautiful to watch," Aziraphale whispers, "Beautifully written, my dear. I would see it every day if I could."

Oh, god, fuck, goddamn - 

The tectonic plates shift, the structure collapses. The world shifts white, starbright. Crowley comes in a ruin in his own clothing, hidden in the dark, held in the palm of Aziraphale's own hand.

Breathe. His reddark hair is sticky and like rivers against his face. His sweat sticks on his brow, cooling uncomfortably under his clothing, his pottery-shard-red beard.   The hand slips from his clothing. Aziraphale smiles in that smallsoft way. The curl at the corner, the light in the eyes. God, I love you. Do you, maybe, sorta, you know - (In these moments, Crowley lets himself think that there's a soft landing there. There's a shelter from the storm. By tomorrow, this moment will fade. Don't worry, you can count on that.)

He realizes the play has ended. He's missed the lot of it. Something about revenge, perhaps? (Doesn't matter, he's no fan of tragedies.)

"Er, so. So. Yeah. How'd you like it? I mean, the play," Crowley manages. Aziraphale has blueshift eyes and they're caught with lantern-light. The crowds are thinning. Crowley can smell the onset of rain in the air, the smashed roasted hazelnuts under their feet. The sour scent of ale. 

"It was wonderful, my dear, thank you. I haven't really properly thanked you, do let me - "

"You've thanked me." Crowley arches a dark brow, smirking a little. Gets his sea-legs. They stand, stretch. Get up from their chairs. Aziraphale blushes a little. Just a bit on the bridge of his nose.

"Well, I - It was very appreciated," Aziraphale says. He clears his throat and looks around them. Finds no one. The seats have emptied out. "I should get back, of course. You know I'm always a bit, well, tired after one of these performances. It is rather late."

Crowley nods. I want to walk home with you. If no one was looking, would you want me to? If no one was looking, would you want me?  It's love. Crowley knows the exact measure of this heart held out. He's pulled it from his chest, through the ribs. Here, yes, let us put hearts on a white-ceramic plate. Knife and fork. I want my heart inside of you, the best way is through the mouth. Swallow me up, take me in. I'll cook it for you, whatever you prefer. Agrodolce. Sweet and sour, soaked in balsamic. Roasted with pearl onions. Parsnips too.

He tilts his head, his hair falling forward. Loose and red, violent as an algae bloom. War-colored tangles. Aziraphale is watching his hair. It's not about sleep. It is about exhaustion. Crowley knows that they will leave because their jaws are too exhausted to keep themselves well-shut. Better to keep it in. I love you like a volcanic eruption, like a nuclear disaster. (Later, much later, sitting in a Mayfair flat with grey walls and the scattered pages of an astronomy book around him, Crowley will think of Chernobyl and the cracked sarcophagus. The blue light, the wreck of it. He will have a line down the middle of himself, telling of impending eruption, this near-cracked knock of "It's over, Crowley."  Don't let it out, keep it sealed up. I love you is a dangerous game.)

"Yeah, tired. I mean, same. These plays go on forever. Dull plodding dreck, if you ask me. You know I don't like the sad ones."

"I thought it was a lovely bit of art," Aziraphale says, raising his brow and smiling. "Though I do agree with you on the length, of course. Was a bit long. Longer than the others, wasn't it?" He pauses, tucks his chin. "Could do with a holiday myself. Heaven's getting a bit techy with all the changes."

Changes, Crowley snorts. Mentally rolls his eyes at this sweeping description of the Protestant Reformation. “Yeah, holiday'd be nice. Somewhere warm. Rocks to lay on."

"Where would you go?" Aziraphale asks, his eyes very intent. It sounds like with me, where would you go with me? 

Crowley blinks. He pauses, uncertain of what Aziraphale is asking. He shifts on his hips, clasps his hands behind his back. "Alpha Centauri's nice this time of year." He says it quietly. It can mean everything. Nothing. Anything you like.

"Do you think about it? Going, of course."

“Yeah, angel.” Everyday. With you. If you go, take me with you. Don’t you dare leave me here. 

Aziraphale nods. Looks away. Bites his worrywobble lip. "I should get on. Before I get more tired, of course." 

"Of course." Before I say something I shouldn't. Before I drag this down around us. Before I fuck it all up. The trouble with love is that love is liquid. You can't lecture it, this slosh of it inside of you. You can't reason with love, tell it, yes, there's a tear here in my body, in the cup of me, but don't you dare spill out. Water does as it likes. Love too. Open your mouth and it'll pour out when you're not looking. It's there, sitting on the tip of his tongue like a pill. Crowley lifts his jaw, tilts his neck. Swallows it back down. 

He knows they must be careful. Keep yourself sealed up. Don't go unscrewing the cap. 

They part. Separate ways to different rooms on distant streets. Crowley slouches back, slitherspined and walking slowly. He passes the Butcher's Row as he goes, sees the sausages hung up on their twine and rope. There is a river of blood through the stones, coming to meet the other wetmuck of the street. He grimaces as he passes and steps in it, some of it splashing on his boot. He keeps walking, makes it back, lets himself in. In his bed, he lays himself out, a pile of flung out right angles and acute bends. A haystack man dropped here, pushing his hand between his own thighs, the still-wet of himself. Hard and wanting again. 

"Aziraphale, please - "

Let's pretend. Let's say that you can hear me. Sound is vibration, moving through the atmosphere and disturbing the universe. For my sound to get to you, for my vibrations to touch you, there must be something between us. It cannot work in a vacuum. I don't think there is a vacuum between us, I can hear you breathing, hear the soundscrape of you when you're talking, walking near me, when we're drinking. If I say I love you out loud, can you feel it in the vibrations of the air on your neck?

So it happens again. A room of his own, a ruin of his own making. In bed alone, catching himself red-dicked and wanting. Getting himself in hand and trying to get Aziraphale out of his head. (Failing.) He doesn't think about earlier. Think about what it would be like to finally watch Aziraphale over him, moving down the skinnybone chest, kissing prayers as he goes. Take me inside of you, in your mouth. He thinks mostly of this bed. Of being pulled open and pushed apart. Closes his eyes and thinks of pushing Aziraphale inside of himself, wet as a rockpool. He doesn't know what it might look like but he knows the shape of Aziraphale's cock, pushes the memory inside of himself.

Crowley cries out into his fist as he comes. Biting deep, trying to shove the sound back inside.

Don't speak. Don't make a sound.

 


 

This is not the last time. 

Let's fast forward. Travel at the speed of sound. The door closes to a Soho bookshop. Latch loud in the quiet dark. They find their way up the narrow stairs. Footsteps sounding against the hall, against the walls. They're drunk and clumsy too. They pause there, right in the door to the little kitchen. There are half-empty glasses on the counter. Abandoned. The sink and its collection of dishes. The knit handtowel there near the oven. Aziraphale moves to hang his coat, turning around. When he looks back at Crowley, he opens his mouth, breathes. Closes it. Opens again. (You get used to keeping it in, to keeping an engine cold. It takes a bit to heat up, to start running.) 

Crowley is standing at the little table in the kitchen. The Heavenly Times left folded to a page, the crossword half-done in blue ink. There is a pocketwatch left on the table. Mail. A pile of books. There is a bowl filled with apples. Fuji and Gala, Braeburn and Honeycrisp. Red and gold in the bowl. A pile of red and gold ready to be devoured, to be taken to the mouth. If you are hungry, take one. Have a bite. Swallow up the red, wash down the gold.

"Would you like something, my dear?" Aziraphale asks, moving toward the winerack.

He doesn't say anything. Silence in the bookshop. This scatterbeat of his pulse, the bounce of possibility. He reaches for words but they're useless, they mean nothing. There are apples in the bowl and Aziraphale is staring, watching. His neck is nervous too, his pale eyes are wide and his fingers are twitching. They are alone. It is quiet. No one is watching, no one to hear. 

Crowley has always imagined there will be words. There are not. He reaches out for Aziraphale's hand, pulls it close. A hand often on him, teasing him, pulling him. But never just hand in hand, never a hand on his face, his chest, his arm. Brings the knuckles to his mouth and kisses them. Kisses between them too. Soft and gentle, reverent. 

Aziraphale sucks a breath in. "Crowley," he whispers. For a moment, Crowley almost hisses shut up, they'll hear you. Instead, he closes his eyes, presses the hand to his face, his bone-sharp cheeks and his forehead. Pushes it into his own hair. Touch me. Aziraphale's fingers curl there, possessive and wanting. Curl like an apostrophe. curl like they are whispering you're mine, I am yours. 

"Will you say it?" Aziraphale says. He sounds out of breath. And there is no one to hear it. No one is there on the banks of the river. No one in the sky with an ear to the ground. Crowley looks up to see the hallway light caught in Aziraphale's eyes, on the curve of his soft smile. "I want to hear it. Please. Please, my dear. Please."

He's embarrassed, flushed. It's too much. It's everything. He tucks his face against the side of Aziraphale's own, the whitecotton hair there against his skin for the first time. Soft as featherdown. "Yeah, angel, anything. Anything you like," he murmurs.

"Tell me. In words."

I will tell you in every way and I will make every bit of the air shiver with it too. "I love you, I've always loved you."

"Oh, Crowley," Aziraphale slams his eyes shut. Then there is rapture, skin to skin, this pull of Crowley toward Aziraphale. These impatient mouths pressing in. We start with simple things, the dry press of lips. Then we give, open, surrender. Sparking together like a transformer. Open mouths and this trade of gently-bitten lips and the swipe of a tongue. This first salt-soft taste of oysters, this first sip of wine. Their damp skin and mouths wet with each other like pearjuice. Crowley moans, fingers digging into Aziraphale. Pulls back for a moment, forehead to forehead. 

"I love you. I've loved you from the Beginning," Aziraphale says, hands coming up to smooth over Crowley's chest, to touch arms and shoulders. Places he could not before, things that were not hidden by water, by a pressed-in crowd. "From Eden. And until the end."

"Oh, god, the sound of that," Crowley whispers.

"Come with me," Aziraphale says, pulling on Crowley's jacket, "Let me tell you more."

Because this is not the last time either. Come on, back into this little bedroom. This floor for echoes, the two of them laid out on a bed above a bookshop. Soho noise streaming in, a bit of orange light. Kissing furiously, pushing clothes from shoulders, pulling jackets from arms. Damn your buttons, we'll fix it later. This is not the last time, no. This is just the story of the discovery of sound.

Tell me, tell me again. Let me hear you at last.