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an unperfect actor

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Aziraphale said, “I saw a picture.”

“Oh?” replied Crowley, with the air of someone who had been caught not paying attention to a conversation. Only, in his defence, they hadn’t strictly been having one. While they hadn’t been conversing, he had been leaning back against one of the pillars in the heart of the bookshop, the lamplight catching in his hair, and Aziraphale’s face had been pressed into the crook of his neck, tasting the crease of his skin. “Yeah? Today? That’s nice.”

“Ah, no. Some time ago.”

“Right.” Crowley sounded slightly baffled. “Me too. Seen loads of them, to be honest.”

Aziraphale somewhat reluctantly removed himself from the vicinity of Crowley’s neck. He smoothed his hands, careful and precise, down the lapels of Crowley’s jacket. He swallowed, and began the process of assembling a sentence from the moving parts of his mind. But before he had to, Crowley, eyes flicking across his face, quirked his lips in comprehension.

“Oh yeah?” he said, sounding decidedly more interested.

Crowley had an easy language for all of this, delicious and unlovely. It lived somewhere on the back of his tongue, ready to tumble out at any moment. To be tossed casually across a room, to be murmured into Aziraphale’s ear. Go on, put your fingers inside me. When I get you home, I want to fuck you up against the front door. I can’t stop thinking about coming in your mouth, can I— Aziraphale knew all the words, obviously, inside-out, and their etymologies too. But the command of them, the context, was different.

What Aziraphale did have were a thousand and one images, ideas, all well-worn in thought. Many, many specifics: more, possibly, than Crowley. Some had coincided very happily with Crowley’s dark-tongued requests. Others had simply come about in the natural exploration of things. But there were yet others that Aziraphale was coming to realise, uncomfortably, that he would have to articulate in order to bring them about, and grant them the uneasy power of existing outside of himself.

“Don’t tell me,” Crowley was saying. “Ganymede. No, Saint Sebastian.”

“It was more a postcard, really.”

“Bognor Regis. Blackpool Tower. You want to do it like we’re on a dirty weekend away.”

“Do stop it, Crowley.”

Crowley smiled at him, looking fond, but also somehow radiating the word Shan’t.

“It was— well. An intimate postcard.”

Crowley looked like he’d just been handed a bottle of something very expensive and told it had been stolen from somewhere very important. “Really?” he said. “Back room of an antiques shop? Stumbled across something salacious?” He wrapped his tongue around the word like it might slither away from him.

“Something like that,” said Aziraphale.

“Something like that?”

“It was an establishment near here, actually, I believe.”

“Right, sorry,” said Crowley, his eyebrows grazing his hairline, “let me just re-calibrate the story here. Big jump, you understand. From you gazing up at a canvas in the National Gallery to you rifling through porn in a sex shop. You can see how I have some catching up to do.”

“I do live in Soho, you know,” said Aziraphale, faintly annoyed. “I’m— interested, obviously.”

Obviously.” Crowley’s fingers traced the shape of Aziraphale’s shoulder, dipped momentarily under the collar of his shirt. “So, this picture.”

“Yes. Hm. It was a photograph of, well, a young person, who…” Aziraphale pressed his lips together, irritated with himself. “He was on his knees.”

Crowley was waiting for more. When it didn’t come, he began, with a question in his expression, to sink down towards the floor. But Aziraphale stopped him with his hands on his chest.

Aziraphale tried again. The image was visible and obvious enough as when he had held it, fingers burning, in his hands. Come on, then. Nobody’s going to burst into flames. “His face was turned upward,” he began. “The picture was of him, but his partner had, well, had— finished. On him.”

“Angel,” said Crowley, around his widening, shocked smile, “are you trying to say you want to come on my face?”

Aziraphale bit his tongue, and shook his head. “No, I…”

Crowley’s mouth fell a little way open, and his eyes went, briefly, entirely yellow. “Oh, fuck.”

Aziraphale kissed him, then, a conveyance of his want that he had strangely far less trouble in mastering. Crowley opened to it as readily as ever, pressed himself into the pillar at his back, splayed his hand against Aziraphale’s warm cheek and held him there, mouth to mouth. Aziraphale touched the thick rust-shag of his hair, the open slice of skin above the cut of his shirt, the hard jut of his hip. All of this was easy.

“So you see,” Aziraphale said. “If you’d stay as you are, and let me…” He gestured, an imprecise roll of his hand that Crowley, his tongue on his lower lip, watched intently.

“Let you do anything,” Crowley murmured. Aziraphale kissed his lips again, briefly, as Crowley reached down to unbuckle his belt.

When Aziraphale went to his knees, he found Crowley already some way stiff as he peeled open the tight wrapping of his trousers and his underwear beneath. It was little work to make him stiffer still, to taste and to touch him with the well-practised tool of his mouth until Crowley sagged a little slacker where he stood, let out a pleased whistle of breath.

Aziraphale liked this act, and he liked doing it for Crowley in particular. He liked its undeniably pleasure-driven impetus. He liked its various interesting positions, including this one, in which there was an undercurrent of devotion and service that he had not yet, inevitably, voiced aloud. Here, on the carpet, Crowley had said, once, catching him by the hand, his fingers encircling Aziraphale’s wrist, only a foot away from where they were now. Crowley knew what was beneath the carpet, the chalked-out shapes, the precise markings, because Aziraphale had shown him and told him to be careful of it. In the eyes of God, Crowley hadn’t actually said, but there had been a little flash in his eyes, and Aziraphale had heard it anyway. He had knelt then, too.

“When was this?” Crowley was saying, now, above him.

“Sorry?” said Aziraphale, pulling his mouth back.

“This picture. When did you see it?”

“Oh.” Aziraphale turned it over in his fingers, in his mind. “It must have been at least fifty years ago.”

“Huh,” said Crowley. “Sixties. Yeah. I guess.” His mouth spiked upwards at the corner. “Though I wouldn’t have guessed at the time.”

Aziraphale hummed rather non-committally, and pressed his tongue against the base of Crowley’s cock.

“You used to wear that little cravat,” Crowley said. “Smart. Suited you. We saw a bit of each other, then.”

They had. Crowley on the King’s Road, draped in all manner of interesting fabrics. It was, Aziraphale remembered, the most colourful he had ever looked, although it hadn’t lasted long, and he’d favoured red. Sunglasses glinting, a rolled-up joint between his lips. He had claimed, vaguely, to be behind the general mood of the city in the summer of 1967, which Aziraphale conceded had a level of debauchery and rebellion woven through it that he supposed Hell would approve of. It had also produced London’s most concentrated levels of measurable love in the atmosphere since records began, which Aziraphale had been assiduously reporting back to Heaven as somehow his doing. He hadn’t mentioned this to Crowley at the time.

“So did you go there often? The seedy underbelly?”

“There wasn’t much of Soho that wasn’t,” Aziraphale pointed out, which was true. It had been a clean, fashionable district, when he’d first set up here, and since then it had ebbed and flowed, flowered and rotted, lived and died and lived again. But it had remained a home, and the bookshop a constant point within it. Its shifting demeanour over the centuries had fascinated Aziraphale, a tiny microcosm of all the facets and foibles of the human spirit. Although for much of the twentieth century, it had been dedicated to a particular foible, yes.

Crowley used to come to Soho to do business— to visit the bookshop, too, when they were on stretches of particularly good terms— but most often for work. He, however, had set up his own base of operations fifteen minutes west, a little half-mile that traversed the breadth of what could coexist within a single city. Soho and Mayfair, jostling one another at the shoulders. Neither Aziraphale nor Crowley had ever pointed out how odd it was that they should end up living in what seemed to be the other’s natural habitat.

“Wish I’d known,” Crowley said, sounding not so much lascivious as nostalgic. “Things were— good, then. For us. Between us. We could’ve. I don’t know.”

No, Aziraphale thought, they couldn’t’ve. Or, more accurately, he couldn’t’ve. Crowley, of course, had been holding out a hand to him, increasingly openly, for years. Centuries. The Arrangement had been at the top of of a very slippery slope. Aziraphale had inched down it, protesting loudly, partly because he felt he ought to, and partly because he was genuinely rather frightened of what might lie at the bottom. Not of Crowley, but of whatever part of himself would be waiting there, resentful, hidden, and hungry.

He hadn’t been all that far from the bottom, fifty years ago. There hadn’t been much further to fall. He knew, dreadfully, constantly, what it was that he wanted. Crowley must have known, too, which was in some ways worse. I’ll give you a lift. Anywhere you want to go. Crowley’s hand stretched towards him, even closer than usual. But Aziraphale’s want for the warmth of it hadn’t matched up to his fear.

Crowley, he thought, who was shifting his hips minutely, might be remembering the same night. They’d never spoken of it since, never referenced what Aziraphale had done for him in the passenger seat of his car, and what he hadn’t.

“I’d seen you,” Aziraphale said, in a rush. His breath tickled Crowley’s cock, hot and quick, making him squirm. “I’d seen you, that night. Before I saw— this picture. We’d spoken, and then I…”

“Went to look at porn,” said Crowley, his voice odd with disbelief.

“It wasn’t exactly like that, not quite on purpose, but…”

“Oh, sure,” said Crowley. A different kind of disbelief.

“So that was when I saw it. And I thought, well, about you, and…”

“Christ.” Crowley rested his head back against the pillar. “Okay. Oh, God.”

Aziraphale, relieved to have a very legitimate reason to stop talking, took the head of Crowley’s cock back into his mouth. But Crowley wriggled away almost at once, his hips pulling backward.

“Uh,” he said. “No, don’t, or I’ll— I mean, if you want me to— ”

Aziraphale settled himself at his feet, and nodded.

“Right,” said Crowley, looking down at him. He shifted his jaw and gripped his red, wet cock in his own hand. “Like this? Yeah?”

If you’d be so kind, Aziraphale toyed with replying, although it didn’t feel quite like the right moment to try and make Crowley laugh, so he just said, “Yes.”

Crowley was rougher with himself than Aziraphale ever was. Aziraphale looked at his hand as he worked himself over, the rise and fall of his chest, and then at his face, his half-open mouth and bright-torch eyes. “Oh, fuck,” Crowley said again, and for a moment his gaze darted away, sideways. But then seconds later he looked back, and with his free hand he slid two fingers gently under Aziraphale’s chin, and tipped his head slightly further back.

He curled in on himself a little when he came, and Aziraphale felt the quick, warm spurts of it across his face, on his cheek and nose and chin. Yes. Good. Crowley’s breath heaving, his arm jerking, while Aziraphale breathed through his nose and kept his eyes open and let himself be desecrated.

Crowley sagged back against the pillar. Aziraphale poked his tongue a very little way out of his mouth, just at one corner, just enough to touch the wetness he could already feel. Then he dragged one finger across his cheek, and put the tip of it into his mouth.

Crowley was staring at him. “Live up to your expectations?” he said, after a moment.

Aziraphale said, “Thereabouts.”

“Oh, thereabouts,” parroted Crowley, faintly.

Aziraphale breathed out, long and low, and then, deciding that even he was permitted a shortcut now and again, flicked his fingers so that his face was clean. Then he got to his feet.

“Fuck me, angel,” Crowley said, zipping up his trousers. “What else haven’t you been telling me?”

Aziraphale nearly laughed out loud at this. The answer would take, perhaps, six thousand years to relate. But then again, they had another six thousand years, and all eternity, for Aziraphale to learn the language to do so.

He had, at least, mastered some of the most important phrases. I love you, he had said, because by the time they’d got back from Tadfield in the early hours of that late-August morning, Aziraphale had been far more frightened of the possibility of never saying it than of what might happen if he did. And many more times since then, too. But never, yet, the equally simple and equally serious I’m sorry. Though it lived on the tip of his tongue just like I love you had lived there before it, and I want you, too, and Nothing is as important to me as you are, all of which he had been experimenting with over the last few months. There was still time.

Aziraphale smiled, and said, “You’d never guess.” Then he kissed Crowley again, pleased and slow and a little bit possessive, and felt Crowley sigh into his mouth.

“More pressingly,” Crowley said, sliding his hand between Aziraphale’s legs, “what do you want me to do with this?”

There were any number of answers to this, too. But Aziraphale felt he was, for a short while, entitled to the ease of not having to give them. “Whatever you like best,” he said.