Five steps into Crowley’s flat and they’re practically propping themselves up against the door, boneless with shellshock. It’s been so long since they were in a battle - not since, oh, not since the 16th century. Oh, there have been wars aplenty, but Upstairs and Downstairs aren’t quite so gung-ho these days. They’re tangled up in politics and have all but forgotten the angel and demon stationed on Earth since before the Flood.
I want, says Aziraphale. His hands are shaking so much he has to stop and try again to make the signs come out right. I want to sleep beside each other, like in the old days.
“Er. Outside?” says Crowley, when he can speak again. Aziraphale shakes his head, looks up at the light-polluted London sky. Too exposed, he says, and Crowley is startled into laughter. “It’s about time,” he says. “I’ve tried to convince you to sleep in a bed for years.”
Yes, dear, says Aziraphale, with a sheepish grin. I thought you were trying to tempt me. He closes his eyes. He’d finally bedded down in tents under the stars when he’d joined the Qin armies. How interminable that had been, days and nights of marching. Kamael, wise in the ways of warfare, had not only taken Aziraphale under his wing but had marched beside him nearly every minute of the ordeal. He’d used miracles to ease the way when Aziraphale, with all his prodigious strength spent on healing the humans’ wounds — wounds which weren’t even in his jurisdiction and should properly have been treated by Raphael — had been too exhausted to see straight. When Kamael had been summoned back halfway through the campaign, Aziraphale had sobbed himself to sleep most nights, and had been so desolate that he’d seriously contemplated discorporating himself for a few years’ reprieve. It was only the knowledge he’d be sent back to the same seething, mindless carnage that had stopped him. All that wasted effort for a slap on the wrist. Heaven didn’t hold with stress leave.
I keep remembering — all the wars, he says now, trembling. God, Crowley, how selfish we’ve become. How timid. In China... or Greece, or Rome, I wouldn’t have thought. I’d just have gone and fought their battles because that’s what a good soldier does...
“Hey,” says Crowley softly, shushing him with velvet-soft strokes to the pads of his fingers, his knuckles. “Nothing wrong with self-preservation.” He grins crookedly. “We’re - you’re not answerable to ‘em any longer, angel. Our own side, remember? You don’t have to fight anymore. You can do whatever you’d like.”
Yes, says Aziraphale obediently. Yes. His eyes spill over and he wipes them, then remembers himself and takes a deep breath. If he starts crying now he’ll never stop. Crowley’s grip on his fingers is still firm, and it’s only at Aziraphale’s nod that he lets go, groans and staggers into the kitchen. “Sa- Someone, I need a drink. Angel, for you? Cocoa, wine, tea?”
Aziraphale’s stomach churns at the thought of liquor. Cocoa. Please. Thank you. He sinks into the leather couch and tries not to wring his hands or fidget while he waits. Crowley miracles it up, complete with marshmallow. Aziraphale gives him a shaky smile.
“I put a nip in it. Drink up,” Crowley says encouragingly. Aziraphale sips, and the warmth and sweetness do help him feel more grounded; his skin’s not so clammy now, and Crowley’s flat doesn’t feel so cold. The austerity of the flat makes him miss — but no, he won’t think about his bookshop, or he‘s going to cry again. He focuses on Crowley instead, on the bob of his throat as he drinks his Chateau de Neuf.
An hour and six brandy-laced cocoas later, Aziraphale’s scribbling mad and slightly off-kilter gestures in the air, about everything from Confucius to Senegalese drought to trigonometry. And somehow, impossibly, Crowley’s arms come up around him, one hand braced under his waist to steady him. And that’s too much for Aziraphale’s crumbling willpower, never staunch to begin with and only bolstered by his now-ruined faith in Heaven. He wants to warm Crowley, to protect and cherish him. He’s been daydreaming about this for... he doesn’t know how long. It soothes and settles some long-held need — to embrace Crowley like this, to be allowed to love him just for these few years, when Heaven and Hell are busy cleaning up their own mess. They owe Adam a debt of gratitude.
Then he remembers to look up and tilts his head in a silent query.
“‘S great,” mumbles Crowley, in reply. He looks dazed, and unbelievably lovely even with his hair mussed. “Better than great.” Crowley’s eyes are doubly bright under the downlights; the tenderness in them, and the hint of uncertainty, redoubles Aziraphale’s own gratitude.
He half-manoeuvres, half-miracles them into the bedroom. I’d like to massage you, he says. Lie flat on the bed?
Soon Crowley’s lying on his belly. The angel kneels by the bed, splays both palms against Crowley’s back and breathes in his scent. He moves up to the bony shoulders, kneading the muscles there, then maps out Crowley’s spine with his fingers until the tension’s drained. The demon’s breathy sighs do nothing to help Aziraphale’s composure.
With a final circle of his fingers around the shoulder blades, he takes his hands off Crowley’s body.
“Ngfgh,” says Crowley, sitting up and stretching like a cat. “Angel, where’d you learn that?”
Comes in handy after a day’s march, says Aziraphale, moving his palms swiftly to cup Crowley’s cheeks. Crowley goes quite still and, ah, his eyes are shades of umber and gold, and little spots of peach. Aziraphale can feel the heat of him, can feel his pulse in his left temple. He only has to lean forward a little to — to- oh. Oh.
His own breath’s high and sharp in his ears as he deepens the kiss. Crowley gives a quiet, choked-off moan that makes goosebumps rise on Aziraphale’s arms. Both of them are panting by the time they break apart, Crowley’s face still cradled between Aziraphale’s hands. It feels like a benediction to have this, this small privilege so long imagined. He peppers the demon’s cheeks and nose with kisses, long slow lingering ones.
Let me... show you, says Aziraphale, fingers flying, against Crowley’s bare skin, how much... how beautiful you are.
“Bed,” growls Crowley, and hauls Aziraphale up to lie on top of him in an undignified sprawl. They kiss some more, tangled on top of one another in grotesque, sweat-soaked imitation of Crowley’s wrestling statue.
The lights go out; the sheets have turned pale gold, strewn with roses and birds of paradise. There’s a replica of Aziraphale’s favourite rug on the floor and the room’s hung with star-shaped lanterns, giving Aziraphale enough light to see by (not that he can’t create more with a thought, but Crowley’s eagerness to serve makes him glow with happiness - at being cared for, at being seen). Rose perfume burns in the censer. Aziraphale’s smile threatens to split his face in two.
You old romantic, he says, nudging Crowley. Crowley huffs and ducks his head so his face is hidden. Aziraphale tilts his chin gently up and says, very seriously, but you are, Crowley; you’ve got a centre like an eclair.
“Wanker,” says Crowley petulantly, but his breath hitches.
Language! And Aziraphale winches out his wings.
All Crowley’s insouciance returns in a second. His own wings snap out too and he half-sits up on the bed. He’s manifested himself an Effort, too, in more places than one; Aziraphale’s eyes skitter off it and back up to Crowley’s face.
“See anything you like?” drawls Crowley.
Vain creature. Plenty, as it happens.
An expectant silence, but Aziraphale knows the next move in this game. He’s danced the steps faultlessly for six thousand years. I’d like to take your clothes off, love, he says, planting a kiss to Crowley’s throat and never taking his eyes off him. Like clockwork, the nod; and Aziraphale’s fingers strip the garments deftly away.
That done, he closes his eyes and makes a vulva, like Crowley has. Then, too impatient to undress, he miracles his clothes away. When he opens his eyes again, Crowley’s staring. Wide-eyed, almost salivating, as though Aziraphale were his own personal banquet.
Even Aziraphale’s unprepared for the heady rush of Crowley’s adoration. It’s like being worshipped. He almost doesn’t dare to say it even in his own head, but he doubts She would mind. After all, Crowley’s goodness is like a beacon next to Aziraphale’s fickle little candle, which blows out in every high wind.
Not very happy with this, but oh, well.
The temptation quote is, of course, Wilde’s.
When Aziraphale looks up from Mansfield Park (Crowley’s copy of Trainspotting having been persuaded, much to its surprise, to transform) it’s to sunlight spilling across their bed and a very naked demon gazing adoringly at him. Crowley ducks his head a flicker of a second too late: there’s such a warmth in his face, such a glow in his eyes, that Aziraphale feels like one of his own rare books, up on display in a museum somewhere. But no book, surely, was ever treasured so well, or read so carefully.
“Er. Hi,” says Crowley, to the bedsheet. “Morning. Ngk.”
Good morning, dear, says Aziraphale. Lightly, so as not to embarrass him further, poor thing. Sleep well?
“Yeah. Angel,” begins Crowley. “Last night... we, ah, you, I mean...” and then his tongue seems to get caught somewhere on the way. He begins to sit up and, even though Aziraphale doesn’t see what all the fuss is about when it comes to human bodies, he notes with pleasure that Crowley’s form is lithe, almost hairless, dark and sinuous. Here a hip pokes out from the covers, here the curve of a shoulder.
“Clothes,” croaks Crowley, and miracles them on with a wave. And then he gapes at Aziraphale.
You know, says Aziraphale, nuzzling Crowley’s neck, for someone who was so damnably fond of taking the initiative last night, you‘re very tongue-tied in the cold light of day.
At that Crowley seems to recover himself. “Don’t recall you objecting,” he drawls, and Aziraphale smiles. I didn’t, emphatically so, he agrees, leaning in for a kiss. The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it, my dear. And what else could I have done with a demon who’s so irresistible?
Whereupon Crowley, eyes sparkling and smile just a bit too fond to be wicked, kisses him with a fervour that promises many, many more days of this to come.