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The Other Arrangement

Chapter Text

Note: When I was writing this fic I was inspired by the emotion in this absolutely fantastic art by Mundyside on Tumblr (used with permission)

 

It was in Paris that they finally gave into it. There had been quite a few near-misses before that, of course. Millennia of maybes had led to centuries of almosts and then one night in 1586 Crowley had pulled the angel against him in a tavern and pressed their mouths together.

Aziraphale had thought that when it happened Crowley would be rough, needy, commanding, but the gentleness of the demon nearly made him cry. Crowley loved him. Aziraphale needed no more evidence than this, the light fluttering of the demon’s hands at the angel’s throat, his cheek, the back of his neck, touching him everywhere but not claiming him. Holding Aziraphale close, but not harshly. Wanting this so much , having wanted it for thousands of years, and still letting the angel know that it would be easy for him to escape this if he didn’t want it too, that he could simply pull back and it would be over.

It had to be over, of course, but not just yet, please God, not just yet , and Aziraphale had kissed him back, just as gently, just as sweetly, with just as much love. He had woven his fingers into Crowley’s scarlet hair and kissed his beloved demon like it was going to have to last them for thousands of years after.

The Arrangement had started in 1020. The Other Arrangement (they were bad at naming things) began in 1586, because there was only one way to go from there, from kissing, from understanding that they were in love, and that was a more dangerous road than they would ever let each other walk. In the way that forbidden lovers always learned, Aziraphale and Crowley understood that the only way to be together was to not be together. To be Thus far and no farther. To be We’re just friends. To be Really, I don’t even like you, but since you’re here, we might as well have a glass of wine and then go our separate ways.

To never be Oh, darling, just let me hold you . To not ever once be How perfect it is to wake up in your arms in the morning still a little bit sore where my body remembers yours.

The Other Arrangement had been devised stone-cold sober. We need rules , the angel had said, and they’d memorized them, putting them on like chains.

First, of course, no kissing. Not even on the hand, the cheek, the air beside the cheek, not anywhere at all.

Second rule, no touching. There opened up between them a shadowed, cold chasm they were not to cross.

Third, no discussion of sex. The angel had enumerated the types of sexual talking that should be forbidden, ignoring (because he had to now) the demon’s raised eyebrows at the fact that Aziraphale somehow had a mental list of these things ready. No saying anything untoward to each other (Crowley amended that to naughty in the very last joke of that type that they shared). No reading aloud of sensual poetry (that had happened on a couple of prior occasions and had nearly led to kissing). No talking about those other numerous maybes and almosts they’d had. No talking about love-making, past, present, or future, of themselves or other people. And that included mentioning the Other Arrangement ever again.

After they’d parted that night, Aziraphale had cried, with his own arms around himself, feeling more alone than he’d known it was possible to be. The angel and the demon saw each other again ten years after that, and the Other Arrangement had seemed to be holding nicely. It kept them safe. It kept them together. It kept them friends. And for those reasons, it became law. It became second nature. It became This is the way things will always be .

Until it wasn’t. The end of the world had threatened, Heaven and Hell had threatened, and while the wind had certainly come up, it had all ended up blowing over like a thunderstorm warning that produced not a drop of rain.

It took a while for Aziraphale to remember that the Other Arrangement was not, in fact, law. They’d been living on it as if it were the bedrock of their relationship, and it was hard to discover that the rock was sand. It made everything in Aziraphale’s life tilt sideways and tremble. So many questions. Would they really be safe without this arrangement? Were they still in love or had it become too late long ago, their feelings like a neglected garden drying up from lack of water? Could Aziraphale survive the revelation that it was too late if he allowed himself to take a step toward hope? They’d survived Armageddon, the world had not ended. Did Aziraphale really want to chance destroying their world himself?

If only, thought the angel desperately, there were a way to test it without risking everything.

oOo

Crowley had never forgotten about the Other Arrangement. It was stamped on his flesh like a tattoo across all of his exposed skin. He could never not see it. Just as he could always see Aziraphale, whether the angel was present or not. The angel lived behind Crowley’s eyelids, in a safe world. Untouchable.

Armageddon had gone down like a lead balloon but the Other Arrangement was still in effect. Crowley wanted to tear it down, burn it up, but he wasn’t sure how to go about it. Would it shock the angel if Crowley kissed him again? It had gone well the first time, but there’d been a lot of water under the bridge since then. Would Aziraphale be angry? Would he be cold? Had the Other Arrangement become a comfortable place for the angel, an armchair with a pleasant book that contained no drama?

Meanwhile Crowley was about as far from cold as he could get. Since the abotchalypse, old fantasies were being updated in living color every night that he spent alone, pretending he was not alone. The tavern kiss, that walk by the ocean that had led to them holding hands for the first time, and the fantasies had quickly gone far beyond that. Aziraphale in the bookshop, alone for the night, welcoming Crowley’s visit and before long moaning encouragements loud enough to be heard on the street outside. Aziraphale in Crowley’s flat, properly scandalizing the plants with his whispered requests. The angel had a gift for words of love and Crowley hadn’t heard a single one directed his way, loud or soft, since 1586. No teasing, no calling him my dear , no poetry read aloud anymore (apparently in Aziraphale’s opinion, all poetry could be considered sensual). Not a single murmur of the love that had once and only once dared speak its name.

Sometimes Crowley’s fantasies were tiny, delicate wishes inspired by everyday near-misses. Crowley would hold the door open for Aziraphale, and be so close to putting a gentle hand on his back as the angel moved by. They would sit in Aziraphale’s back room facing each other, their knees occasionally passing near as they shifted in their chairs. Crowley fantasized about the brush of hands as he handed Aziraphale a glass of wine, a smoothed away lock of hair, the trace of fingers over Aziraphale’s shoulder when Crowley helped the angel into his coat. Just one single second of physical contact.

Crowley was in love, in lust, and lost. And not just for the last 400 years, but for thousands of years before that. Which is no doubt why it took something so small to set him off.

oOo

It was unfortunate that when Crowley came into the bookshop to collect Aziraphale for dinner that the demon was carrying a cup of coffee. It was more unfortunate that he actually had a mouth full of coffee. The coffee from both sources ended up on the floor, because Aziraphale was walking about the bookshop half naked.

Okay, not exactly half , Crowley’s poor brain amended as he somehow managed to miracle away the coffee mess. His feet. The angel’s feet were naked. Aziraphale wore no shoes or socks. There was almost half an angelic foot visible beneath each pant leg, and ten completely uncovered pink toes. As Crowley’s eyes dragged up the rest of the angel’s form, he noted that there were a couple of other things missing. Aziraphale’s coat. His vest. His bowtie. The angel wore only a dress shirt, with the top button undone, and the sleeves rolled up.

Crowley wasn’t sure where the coffee from the floor ended up. It didn’t appear to go back into his cup. Hopefully he’d never have to find out.

Aziraphale was looking at Crowley curiously, and Crowley was actually changing back to his initial assessment, because if you counted by layers of missing clothing, Aziraphale technically was, in fact, more than half naked.

“Are you all right?” the angel asked.

Crowley was not all right. “You,” he said.

Aziraphale raised his eyebrows. “Yes?”

“You—shoes.”

“Oh. It’s such a nice day. I thought I’d be a little more comfortable this way.” Aziraphale smiled at him, and the expression, as always, formed little crow’s feet on the corners of the angel’s eyes. After millennia of knowing the angel, Crowley had finally decided that the his eyes were the exact color of the sky on the first sunny day after a winter storm. It was a blue that felt both warm and cold mixed together, the shade of a sky so powerful that it had chased all the clouds down to the earth and let them fall as snow.

Crowley continued his brilliant conversational performance. “But you like shoes."

The angel narrowed his eyes as if he were concerned that Crowley might need medical assistance. Crowley finally managed to get his brain to reboot a little bit. “Never mind. Ready for dinner?” Please say yes because going to dinner will require you to put your clothes back on.

“Oh, not yet, I’m afraid. Got a little more work to do here. If you don’t mind?”

Crowley found the couch completely by accident but fortunately remembered what sitting was. “Course not.”

“Oh, good.”

It was not good. It was, in fact, extremely irresponsible of the angel to go about showing people that he had feet, not to mention arms and a collarbone.

Crowley fluctuated between watching Aziraphale work—he was rearranging books and making notes with pencil and paper—and staring at his coffee cup like there were a novel’s worth of words to read on it. Crowley was doing fine. He really was. Keeping himself in check, controlling his desires.

Until Aziraphale abandoned his work and came close. And then closer. And then sat down in the armchair facing the couch, in all his mostly-naked glory, smiling at Crowley with one of those you-light-up-the-world looks. 

Those looks were not forbidden by the Other Arrangement, and Crowley went back and forth sometimes on whether they should have been. It was a fairly simple thing for them to avoid touching. Trying to stop giving your soul mate a look of love would have been a much dicier endeavor. But it while it was a pleasure to see those looks from Aziraphale, it was also a very heavy reminder of what existed but could not be possessed.

“Could we,” Aziraphale asked, “get something delivered? Rather than go out? We could maybe play a game of chess?”

NO , said Crowley inwardly.  Outwardly he said, “Of course.”

Aziraphale beamed at him and while the angel called in the dinner order, Crowley went on a mostly unnecessary search through the bookshop for the chess board. Unnecessary because Crowley could have used a miracle to find it. But he wanted the distraction, the few moments of distance from the angel in the armchair.

When he got back, Aziraphale was reading a book. Except now when he said, “Oh, lovely, thank you,” his voice sounded a little husky.

Crowley gave him a quick once-over. Could Aziraphale be getting sick? It was rare for them to catch cold, but it could happen. Maybe that was the real reason behind the missing clothes. Aziraphale could have a fever. “Would you like some tea?” Crowley asked. It might soothe the angel’s throat.

Aziraphale looked surprised, but he nodded. “Yes, thank you. That would be lovely.”

Crowley smiled back at him, no doubt in that same you-are-my-reason-for-living way, and started toward the kitchen. It was unfortunate (once again) that the route from the sitting area to the kitchen took him past Aziraphale’s chair, and even more unfortunate (again again) that while passing, Crowley happened to glance down in mild curiosity as to what book Aziraphale was reading. It was a near thing that Crowley made it to the kitchen without collapsing on the floor.

Poetry. Sure, fine, the angel liked to read poetry. Couldn’t read it aloud per the Other Arrangement, but Aziraphale still liked to read it to himself.

But that kind of poetry—while Crowley didn’t share Aziraphale’s view that all poems were about romantic love in some way, there were some poems that anyone in their right mind knew were erotic, and one of them was Come Slowly - Eden! by Emily Dickinson. She was a favorite of Aziraphale’s, and Crowley had many of her poems memorized, especially short ones like that.

Come slowly - Eden!

lips unused to thee,

Bashful, sip thy jasmines,

As the fainting bee,

 

Reaching late his flower,

Round her chamber hums,

Counts his nectars —enters,

And is lost in balms!

Aziraphale was reading a poem in which a young lady tempted her lover to approach her, promising love returned. That fact probably would have unsettled Crowley anyway, but Aziraphale was reading this book half-naked .

But Crowley was going to be strong. What was his other choice, to leave? The Other Arrangement had bought them precious time together, and at such a terrible price, it would be senseless to waste it. So the demon willed ice water into his veins and created boiling water for the angel. When he brought out the tea, Aziraphale had fortunately put the book aside.

Crowley spread himself over the couch opposite the armchair and smiled, hopefully in some sort of imitation of his usual mentally sound manner. “So, felt like a game of chess, angel?”

Aziraphale smiled over his mug of tea. “I rather did. Even though you always win. You can see too many moves ahead.”

“Nonsense. You’ve won games.”

Aziraphale raised his eyebrows gently. “When you’ve let me.”

“Well, would you like me to let you win today?” Crowley took off his sunglasses and soaked up the tiny widening of Aziraphale’s eyes as he looked on what the angel considered to be beautiful serpentine eyes. Crowley didn’t agree that they were all that attractive, but he loved to watch Aziraphale think they were.

“No,” said the angel, with a bit of a smile. “I think I’d like to try to win on my own.”

That rather unexpected reply made Crowley grin as he set it the chess board on the coffee table. Naturally, Aziraphale played the white side and Crowley the black.

It was true that Crowley was good at chess. He was good at games, at competitions. As long as he was aware that he was playing.

It was taking Crowley a really rather embarrassingly long time to realize that chess was not the first game that Aziraphale had started playing today.

The first clue—all right, the latest clue in the series—was that while Crowley was taking a moment to ponder a move with his knight, the angel got bored and opened his poetry book again. Crowley paid no attention to this, and was even quite proud of it.

The next clue was the angel making a little husky noise in his throat, a noise that caused Crowley’s hand to spasm around the knight he was holding. He managed not to drop the piece. He did not, however, manage to keep ignoring Aziraphale now that he had made that noise . For fuck’s sake. The angel didn’t have a cold. He was sitting over there in the armchair, as polite as you please, mentally pleasuring himself by silently reading seductive poetry, so much that his voice went all dark and come-hither .

But even with that, Crowley (who was supposed to be clever , for Hell’s sake, two steps ahead , his arse) still didn’t grasp what was going on until the angel practically hit him over the head with it.

Aziraphale stood up, picking up his tea cup and heading to the kitchen to refill it, padding along in his unfairly delectable bare feet. But as he did so, the angel leaned down and put his book onto the table next to the chess board.

It was a perfectly natural thing to do, to set down a book on a table, but the book fell open to another poem, right there in front of Crowley’s face, and as Aziraphale disappeared in the direction of the kitchen, Crowley couldn’t help but read it. And that was when the world finally dropped out from underneath him.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all -

 

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -

And sore must be the storm -

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm -

 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -

And on the strangest Sea -

Yet - never - in Extremity,

It asked a crumb - of me.

The world falling away was a wondrously, terribly frightening feeling, but also more joy than Crowley had possibly ever experienced.

Come Slowly -Eden!

The angel was doing it on purpose. He was—Aziraphale was still in love. Crowley’s hands scrabbled against the coffee table, his fingers against the book, needing to touch the words.

Hope.

Aziraphale loved him.

And damn the angel, he was playing a game .

And damn him even more, Crowley should have had that idea first!

Because of course, now that Crowley had caught on to what was happening, he understood why Aziraphale was doing it this way. The fear and longing and uncertainty in the angel’s heart were the same that Crowley felt. And honestly, it was perfectly natural that it become a game. How many games had he and the angel played over the years? They loved to compete. Even their discussions were often contests, trying (not unkindly) to score imaginary points by being right about whatever topic they were on.

However, at the moment, Crowley was losing this particular game, and he knew he would not be able to regain the clarity of thought required to play until he’d managed to undo what the angel’s poetry and lack of footwear had done to him.

Crowley proceeded to eat a few bites of dinner and then purposefully let the angel win the chess game, but when he’d gotten home, the world had changed. His fantasies had changed.

Now he had hope .

oOo

It was possible, Aziraphale thought, that he had been successful, that his bare feet and poetry were the cause of the demon’s discomfort: the coffee, the lost chess game, the abrupt dash out the door. Maybe it meant that Crowley wanted the Other Arrangement gone as much as the angel did. But Aziraphale wasn’t certain. Maybe Crowley had been feeling ill. Maybe—and this was a terrifying thought—maybe seeing Aziraphale’s body had made Crowley uncomfortable, but not in a good way. Perhaps Crowley found Aziraphale unattractive physically. He hadn’t before, of course, not in 1586. But that might have changed. After all, between them, Crowley was clearly the more attractive one.

In any case, Aziraphale’s efforts hadn’t led to any declarations of love or even a single brush of Crowley’s skin against his, and now Aziraphale sat on his couch in his bare feet, the poetry book abandoned on the table. He was alone again, and feeling quite hopeless indeed.

Chapter Text

When Aziraphale knocked on the door to Crowley’s flat two nights later, he was prepared to spend an evening sitting across the table from Crowley and enjoying wonderful food and marvelous company and then going home alone. It was not really what Aziraphale felt like doing. But at least Crowley had invited him. Although the demon had seemed quite immune to Aziraphale’s clumsy temptations, Crowley was at least happy for them to spend time together. Aziraphale had accepted that for the last four hundred and some years. He could accept it still.

The door opened on its own when the angel knocked, and he stepped in to the smell of garlic and onions and olive oil, and of course, of Crowley, that dark, spicy scent that Aziraphale had memorized millennia ago. Aziraphale came through to the kitchen and found Crowley holding a frying pan over the stove, stirring the roasting spices with a spoon. The demon wore dark trousers and a black t-shirt, his sunglasses, and black boots. Aziraphale contented himself with the sight of Crowley’s forearms, which were fairly often on display, realizing—well, remembering , because this wasn’t something new—that this was as much as he was going to get, that he might never see Crowley walk about his flat barefoot, never in the next eternity.

“You okay, angel?”

Aziraphale dragged his eyes up to Crowley’s face. “Of course. Smells wonderful. What are you making?”

Crowley looked about his kitchen with a studied ambiguity. “Chicken?”

“Aren’t you following a recipe?”

“I was. Not sure where it’s got to now.”

“Well, you’re off to a good start,” Aziraphale said, shedding his coat and draping it over the back of Crowley’s sofa. He came around the kitchen counter, his hands at the cuffs of his shirt, but after a small hesitation, he left his sleeves down, as usual. Aziraphale wasn’t strong enough right now to see Crowley uninterested in what the angel wanted to offer him. “Do you actually have chicken?” Aziraphale asked.

Crowley rolled his eyes at him, Aziraphale could tell by how his eyebrows moved over the sunglasses. “Course I do. Fridge.” Crowley pointed with the spoon as if Aziraphale might otherwise fail to locate the refrigerator.

When the angel pulled out a package of chicken thighs, he snagged a box of strawberries that he saw on the same shelf. But Crowley was instantly behind him, removing the fruit from the angel’s hands. “Sorry, angel, no snacking before meals.”

Aziraphale drew up short. It was the first time Aziraphale had ever heard Crowley say anything like that. Crowley had always taken a strange sort of pleasure in watching Aziraphale eat. A range of uncomfortable emotions rose up in the angel. Was Crowley pulling away? Was he disgusted with Aziraphale somehow? But surely not, if he’d invited Aziraphale for dinner—

“Everything all right, angel?” Crowley asked as he broke open the package of chicken and laid the thighs in the pan with the spices.

Crowley had just the tiniest hint of a smile on his face, although he was clearly trying to hide it.

A little bit of a thing with feathers sparked in the angel’s heart and his unwieldy emotions started whirling in a different direction. “Just chicken and strawberries, then?” Aziraphale asked in a pinched voice.

“And rice.”

“And where did you put that?” Crowley’s apartment might be minimalist and uncluttered, but behind closed cupboard and closet doors, the demon was a disorganized mess.

Crowley swung the spoon around, pointing at various cupboards, before settling on one that was near the fridge. “Top shelf.”

Aziraphale eyed the cupboard with concern. It was probably too high for him to reach, but the angel decided to give it a try. Of course, he was right. Aziraphale couldn’t even see the bag of rice on the top shelf. He made an undignified lunge for it anyway, but no luck. But just as he brought his fingers together to snap the rice into his hand, he suddenly found all of his muscles frozen, even the ones he used for breathing. Because Crowley had stepped in front of him, right in front of him, and stretched his arm up to the top shelf. The demon had a couple of inches of height on Aziraphale and could reach well enough.

Dear Heaven. He was so close. Crowley’s chest, his arms, his hips were just inches away. Aziraphale could actually feel the heat of the demon’s body. He could smell Crowley’s scent even more strongly, mixed with garlic and frying chicken. The demon was so near that if the poor angel had collapsed out of shock, Crowley could have caught him with barely a move.

Because the Other Arrangement prevented touching, Crowley and Aziraphale usually kept their distance religiously, so to speak, knowing that it was far too much temptation for them to ever get so close that a hand could simply leap across a narrow river of air and reach the other shore. Aziraphale’s hand, unused to being faced with such an opportunity, started to twitch.

But it lasted only a second. Crowley stepped close, reached up, grabbed the rice and handed it to Aziraphale with a smile. And then he was back at the stove and Aziraphale was standing by himself again.

“You can get that started,” Crowley told him, gesturing to the cupboard below the sink. “Rice cooker’s in there.”

Aziraphale found the appliance with shaking hands. He also successfully remembered how to cook rice, adding water and spices and turning the cooker to on. He was proud of that. He was not proud that his internal switch had also been turned to on, that all he could think about right now was Crowley, that all he could do was to watch Crowley cook, to study the muscles moving underneath the demon’s clothes, the turn of his shoulder, the stretch of his legs. Aziraphale’s eyes traced the fall of Crowley’s fiery hair across his forehead above his glasses. It wasn’t terribly common for Crowley to wear his sunglasses when it was just the two of them, and now even that was starting to seem to Aziraphale like a clue.

“Do you, um—” Aziraphale wasn’t sure what he was saying. “Dinner. Is there anything else I can—”

Crowley just grinned at him smugly, clearly aware that Aziraphale had been staring. “Nope. Just make yourself at home.”

Aziraphale found himself sitting in a dining room chair. He watched Crowley a moment longer, and then miracled up a book. He wasn’t sure what book it was, it might have been an abridged dictionary, but Aziraphale gave it a very interested look and promptly started pretending to read it.

In reality, he was counting down in his head.

Demons were not patient.

Ten, nine, eight—

There was a clattering in the kitchen, like Crowley had dropped something. Aziraphale did not look up.

Seven, six, five, four—

“Angel, where did you put the—”

Aziraphale kept silent.

Three, two, one.

There was a loud sizzling noise and Crowley gave a hiss of pain. Well, that was certainly dramatic. “Are you all right?” the angel asked, finally looking up.

“Yeah, just burned myself. I’m fine.” A stripe of clear grease stretched across Crowley’s chest, making a mess of the t-shirt and ending in a little red line against his bicep as it peeked out from under the sleeve.

“Oh, I can—” Aziraphale started, getting to his feet, because healing Crowley was something he did often, and it didn’t require touching him.

But Aziraphale never got any farther in his offer because Crowley said, “Oh, never mind, angel, it’s fine. Shirt’s a mess, though.” And then he put down the spoon, hooked his fingers around the bottom of his shirt and pulled it off over his head.

Aziraphale made a strangled noise.

It wasn’t that he’d never seen Crowley shirtless. It had just been a very long time, and he was so beautiful. Sculpted shoulders, a little trace of scarlet hair across his upper chest, a little more just above the waist of his black jeans. Lovely ivory skin over smooth muscles.

It was like Crowley somehow made more sense with his shirt off. Okay, there had to be a better way to express that, but it was like the design of him made more sense. Crowley had such lovely long fingers, and with his torso bare like this, Aziraphale could see how the fingers matched the long lines of his arms, how the graceful movements of his hands were mirrored in the way the muscles turned at his waist. He just—well, Crowley should never wear shirts.

Now, it may have been true—okay, it was, in fact, completely true—that Crowley could beat Aziraphale at chess and other games of strategy because the demon could quite easily think two steps ahead of most people. That was part of being a tempter. Not that the demon ever tempted the angel to anything serious, of course, just a little mischief here and there, and really only because Crowley knew that Aziraphale enjoyed a little mischief now and then.

But the point was that while humans might not realize they were being tempted, Aziraphale always did, because he knew Crowley. He knew every one of his looks, all the different tones of his voice, could decipher every physical movement the demon would make. Aziraphale had needed to learn all of his signs, because an angel had to be constantly on the lookout for temptation when his best friend was a demon.

Put it this way: Crowley? Quite good at playing games. Aziraphale? Quite good at recognizing that Crowley was playing games.

Hope is the thing with feathers.

Oh, it had such beautiful black feathers.

The sudden absence of a terrible weight on Aziraphale’s heart paradoxically sent him sinking toward the floor, taking the poor angel’s knees right out from under him. He collapsed onto the chair. When he could look up a moment later, Aziraphale found that Crowley had removed his sunglasses. His eyes were completely gold and black, not a hint of white.

Aziraphale couldn’t reach for him. He couldn’t even speak. But there wasn’t anything to be said. Looking into Crowley’s eyes like this, the angel could see everything he needed to know. Every shout he wanted to make, every tear that needed to fall was reflected in Crowley’s eyes, and more than that: the simple truth that everything, every little thing they had ever done had been out of love. That what had gone unspoken had been remembered, that what couldn’t be acknowledged had been treasured. It had all been real.

It was too much now, and the angel shook with it.

Crowley, as usual, came to the rescue, in his own demonic way. His expression slid smoothly into one of those rakish smiles and the temperature in the room seemed to skyrocket. The demon smoothed a slow hand down over his shoulder and chest as if he’d had a mild itch, and Aziraphale was suddenly thinking less about the anguish they’d shared than the pleasure they still might. As he stared at the half-naked demon, Crowley asked in a husky voice, “Hungry, angel?”

A laugh burst out of Aziraphale and he put his head down on the table. Crowley took a couple of steps closer, sauntering around the counter to lean a hip against it. “I think we can go ahead and eat whenever,” the demon assured him with a smirk.

Oh, but Aziraphale wasn’t going to make it that easy. This was not happening while Crowley was cool and collected and Aziraphale a mess. Plus Crowley would never let Aziraphale live it down if the angel folded now.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Aziraphale returned. “I’m not feeling terribly hungry at the moment.”

Crowley raised an eyebrow, surprised, but seeming pleased about it. “Aren’t you?”

“No, not really.”

After a second, Crowley shrugged and headed back to the stove, both of them aware that Aziraphale was relishing the back view of the demon’s tight black jeans.

Aziraphale took a deep breath. He looked at his shirt sleeves, at his shoes. No, too obvious. Fight him on your own terms.

When Crowley turned away to check on the rice, Aziraphale waved a hand and made a change. He was still fully clothed, his arms and legs covered, shoes as well. It was just different clothes.

Crowley turned back and made a little noise in his throat and dropped the spoon.

Aziraphale smiled, perhaps a little smugly. The demon certainly wasn’t going to find it easy to be two steps ahead on this one.  

The angel crossed his legs, showing the polished white shoes he wore with his white trousers. He had paired them with a white buttoned shirt, blue bow tie, and blue jacket with white pinstripes. The ensemble had been hanging in his closet for nearly a hundred years and it really was so nice to have it out again.

Crowley recovered and resumed talking as if nothing much had happened, but Aziraphale could hear the slight croak to his voice. “New York. 1927? What was that movie we saw?”

Wings.

“Right. Bloody awful picture.”

Aziraphale straightened his tie, watching Crowley’s eyes track the movement. “I thought you rather liked it.”

“Well. I liked—” The demon scowled suddenly, probably because Aziraphale was smirking at him.

“In any case,” said the angel, standing up, “I was thinking of later that night, do you remember? We stopped in that little bar with the—”

Crowley made a growling noise that probably would have sounded threatening to most people. “Aziraphale, don’t you dare.”

But Aziraphale had spent the last 6000 years with this demon without ever having been threatened once, so it was really quite ridiculous for Crowley to think Aziraphale would be frightened of him now. The angel smiled. “You’re certainly grumpy this evening. Don’t tell me you’re hungry.”

Crowley groaned and put a hand over his face. Aziraphale made sure to miracle the stove and rice cooker to off before dinner burned itself to a crisp. And then he stretched out his fingers, smiling to himself as a baby grand piano manifested itself right in the middle of Crowley’s living room. At least there was plenty of space for it. Aziraphale glanced at the demon to see if he’d appreciated Aziraphale choosing a black one to match his decor, but Crowley had put his head down on the counter.

Smiling, Aziraphale made himself at home on the glossy black bench and trailed a finger soundlessly over the keys. “You might need to help a little,” he told the piano. “I haven’t played this one in a while.”

Aziraphale had picked up piano playing in the early 1800’s, but It hadn’t been until that night in 1927 that they had discovered what it did to Crowley to watch Aziraphale play. The blond upright piano in Aziraphale’s flat saw a good deal of use now, but never while Crowley was visiting, as a kindness. However, the Other Arrangement did not actually forbid Aziraphale from playing a musical instrument in Crowley’s presence.

The movie Wings had released its love theme as a song, and Aziraphale summoned his copy from the bookshop now. He’d miracled up a copy in the bar that night after the movie, and the other patrons had learned it along with them, Aziraphale at the bar’s piano, Crowley beside him, everyone singing. Aziraphale didn’t sing the lyrics now, though. Although he had the upper hand at the moment, the demon in the kitchen was still half-naked and the angel didn’t think he could get through these lyrics without losing a bit of his edge. He only read them as the music passed by.

Ever in my dreams

Gliding on moon beams

I can see bright wings bringing you near.

Though I awaken, find I’m mistaken

Faith is unshaken in you

Always yearning for your returning

Riding on white wings out of the blue

The wings in the song referred to airplanes, of course, it had been a war picture. But the imagery had meant something different to a star-crossed couple in the bar. As the evening progressed and Aziraphale continued to entertain on the piano, the demon had gradually drifted toward the back of the bar, as far from the angel as he could get. When Aziraphale realized what was happening, he stopped, and they took their leave. It was the last time Crowley had heard Aziraphale play.

This new baby grand was a beautiful piano, and eager to please. Aziraphale started into the song, and when he occasionally hit B-natural, the piano helpfully corrected it to B-flat. Aziraphale beamed at it. When the last notes sounded, the angel turned to find that Crowley had raised his head from the counter. The demon was staring at Aziraphale in his 1920’s clothes sitting at a piano with the most naked lust Aziraphale had seen in Crowley’s eyes in—well, in a very long time. They’d gotten into the habit of hiding those looks, not because of the rules so much as because they were so costly to give.  But now Crowley was letting Aziraphale see very clearly what he wanted.

Aziraphale’s mouth went quite dry.

“You don’t know how you look,” Crowley said. “To be able to do that with your hands. It’s ero—” He stopped himself just in time from breaking the rule about talking about sex.

“Well,” said Aziraphale in a breathy whisper, because that was the only voice that remained to him now, “it’s clearly been too long since I played for you.”

With a smug pride and heady excitement, Aziraphale removed his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and let his fingers dance across the keys, starting into Puccini’s Un Bel Di. 1 It surprised the angel how much he was loving the freedom of doing this, of not having to forgo the pleasure of sharing music with his best friend. Of Aziraphale being more fully himself around Crowley than he had been in such a long time.

Aziraphale had to wait a little longer than he expected for Crowley to turn the game around again. Maybe Crowley was just enraptured by the music, or maybe, being such a practiced tempter, he knew that the longer he made Aziraphale wait for it, the more effect his next move would have. Or it might have been both. In any case, by the time Aziraphale had finished playing Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers 2 , he was all nerves, but finally, he could sense the demon walking— sauntering —closer.

Aziraphale got through the first few stanzas of Grieg’s Morgenstemning 3 as Crowley took a slow walk around the piano, coming so near when he was behind Aziraphale that the angel could feel his legs brush against the bench. When Crowley reached the other side and leaned his denim-clad rear against the keyboard, the poor piano couldn’t keep up with all the wrong notes Aziraphale was playing. His hands fell away from the keys.

In a heartbeat, the lid of the piano was closed and Crowley had lifted himself up to sit on it, swinging one denim-clad leg on either side of Aziraphale as he sat at the keyboard. That meant that Aziraphale’s face was suddenly right at the height of Crowley’s effort , and the angel was seized by a rush of heat. Crowley had removed his boots and socks too, and his bare feet swung in space on either side of Aziraphale’s waist.

Aziraphale looked up at him and they both knew it now, having 6000 years of practice at reading what could not be said. Aziraphale was imagining himself just that much closer, their first touch since 1586 being the angel’s hands on Crowley’s zipper, their second being Aziraphale’s lips, mouth, and throat.

Aziraphale let out a little strangled sound as he watched the denim over Crowley’s groin stretch itself into a tent. The two of them had also grown extremely good at imagining what could not be seen, and to the angel, it was as if Crowley’s trousers did not exist at all. Aziraphale’s own trousers felt too tight, all of his clothes too damn warm. He met Crowley’s eyes, all golden still, and Aziraphale started to unbutton his shirt.

Crowley gave a little hiss, but he didn’t reach for him. They were beyond that now, beyond the idea that either of them would just give in. This was how they wanted to do this, because it was so them. A gentle competition taking place in a world to themselves. Aziraphale slipped out of his shirt and tie and let them fall to the floor.

Crowley’s lips had parted and they shared a vision of his mouth against Aziraphale’s bare shoulder, tracing up against his neck. Aziraphale closed his eyes and leaned into the imagined sensations of it, gasping a little when Crowley’s mouth would reach the angle of Aziraphale’s jaw, his cheek, his eyelids.

Aziraphale opened his eyes to find Crowley as flushed as he was. The angel’s gaze fixed on the demon’s wrist, just above where Crowley’s fingers were desperately clutching at the piano lid, and the demon mirrored what Aziraphale would do, lifting his other hand to trail his own fingers over his wrist and up his arm, across his chest and over his cheek. He slipped both hands into his fire-red hair and mussed it gently. 

Crowley whispered, “Shoes, angel.”

Aziraphale pushed back on the bench a bit until he could slip off his shoes and socks.

“Can you play like that?” Crowley asked.

Aziraphale nodded at him, waiting for Crowley to move out of the way, but he didn’t. The demon just spread his legs wider, giving Aziraphale access to most of the keyboard, but not all of it. It was going to be enough of a challenge to play with the demon’s groin still right in front of Aziraphale’s face, even without the angel having to be extra careful that his fingers didn’t come into contact with Crowley’s legs.

But what more beautiful problem could there be? Aziraphale slid his fingers silently over the keys, caressing them, watching Crowley watch that. And then Aziraphale let the opening chords of the waltz from Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier 4 blossom beneath his hands. It was a sweeping, romantic piece of music, a favorite of Aziraphale’s. He’d played it in the bar that night, before Crowley had moved away. Aziraphale glanced at Crowley and found the demon’s eyes were closed, and the angel knew that they were still imagining the same things.

Crowley in a black tuxedo, Aziraphale in white, waltzing, somewhere vast and beautiful and empty except for the two of them, but as full as it could be with just what they brought to each other. They would touch at their hands, and at Crowley’s shoulder, Aziraphale’s waist. Occasionally their legs would brush against each other as they moved over the floor. And then Crowley would tip his head down a bit and their cheeks would press together as they danced.

NOTE: I came across this amazing fan art by Gingerhaole on Tumblr that illustrates this dream perfectly! (Used with permission)

Aziraphale dragged out the last notes of the waltz slowly, and Crowley opened his eyes again. He gave Aziraphale a smile. “Now,” he breathed, “are you hungry, angel?”

In a blink he held the container of strawberries. Aziraphale watched as Crowley selected one of them, his fingers pulling at the green leaves, leaving the fruit pointing toward Aziraphale.

The angel stood on shaky legs and leaned in, his hands on the piano lid outside of Crowley’s hips, and the strawberry briefly touched them both as the angel took a bite. It was possibly the best strawberry Aziraphale had ever tasted. He didn’t want to say it, to put words into the space between them, and they weren’t needed anyway. Aziraphale just let his voice come out as a moan.

He leaned forward for another bite, but they both realized that if Aziraphale finished what was left of the strawberry, his lips would definitely touch Crowley’s fingers. So Crowley pulled away and brought the strawberry to his own mouth, his own flesh brushing against his lips as he finished it, both of them obviously seeing Aziraphale’s fingers there.

They finished three strawberries this way before Aziraphale realized that Crowley was shaking. He looked up at the demon with concern and saw his golden eyes wet. Crowley put the strawberries down and looked at Aziraphale’s hand on the piano lid. “Can you—” Crowley gestured, and when Aziraphale moved his hand away, Crowley slowly brought his own hand down to rest where Aziraphale’s had.

“I can feel the heat you left,” Crowley whispered.  “But—” Tears nearly overflowed his eyes.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale said. He had to say the name once more before the demon looked at him. Aziraphale gave him a smile. “I believe it’s my turn to let you win.” He took a deep breath, unsure of whether his voice could even form the words any more, it had been so long, and he’d only said them once. “I love you.”

Crowley didn’t reach for him. He didn’t say it back, he didn’t even move, his terrified, broken-hearted expression unchanged.  “Are you real?” the demon breathed. “I can hear you and see you, only—I’m so scared that if I try to touch you that you’ll vanish. That maybe I dreamed you.”

Aziraphale choked back a sob. “Tilt your head down, my love.”

Crowley did as he was instructed and that was their first touch in over 400 years, Aziraphale’s mouth pressing against Crowley’s, the second, their cheeks growing wet with each other’s tears. And then, slowly, it was hands, fingertips against fingertips, palms to palms, lips against shoulders, arms around waists, and it was words.  I love you and I need you as they moved down the hallway. I’ve always loved you as they reached Crowley’s bedroom. I will love you forever as they pulled each other onto the bed .

They touched as much as they liked then, with fingers and mouths certainly, but also with toes and ears and knees. They laughed and moaned and they learned how to be as close as two people could ever be to each other, not just touching anymore, but for many sparkling moments actually being one body.

And in the years after, when Aziraphale read a book he did it with Crowley’s head in his lap, or the angel’s bare feet curled up against the demon’s thigh. When Crowley worked in the garden of their cottage in the South Downs, Aziraphale lay in the grass beside him, watching clouds or reading, and collecting little patches of dirt all over his exposed skin as Crowley brushed his fingers against him every few minutes.

They got started cooking and made love instead, started watching television together, but made love instead, tried to go to dinner and then missed their reservations because they forgot about the fact that time passed while they were making love.

I love you was said at every opportunity.

Those were the new rules, after all.

 

 

1 Un Bel Di is an aria from Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly.   It is sung by Mme Butterfly, an abandoned bride, about her belief that her husband will return to her. (He does...but this opera is a tragedy, fair warning.)  This is what it sounds like when Aziraphale plays it (back)

2 Waltz of the Flowers for solo piano (back)

3 Morgenstemning for solo piano (back)

4 Der Rosenkavalier waltz for solo piano (starting at 5:06) (back)