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some chocolate to sweeten the deal

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some chocolate to sweeten the deal

The air is thick here, deep in the heart of sticky-warm jungles: the sun’s bright on the limestone temples rising up above the plazas and palaces, reflecting off of sacred stone the locals keep gleaming-clean in deference to their gods. These myriad gods may be why Aziraphale is here, but for once he isn’t approaching an assignment with what will eventually be called a stiff upper lip: after the dark damp weather he’d patiently endured helping the Round Table, the bright basking warmth of Kalakmul is exactly the break Aziraphale needs.

He steps out of the dwelling he’s been using as lodging. The owner seems to think he’s some sort of god-touched being; Aziraphale hasn’t had the heart to try to convince her otherwise, partially because it’s true and partially because she seems so pleased to cook for him. Her food is delicious, and Aziraphale has blessed her house and family in return.

Today, though, there’s something different. Aziraphale has been in Kalakmul for about a week; technically he’s here on assignment, but in reality Aziraphale has actually been treating this like a kind of ...vacation. It’s one of the more lovely places he’s visited in the past five hundred years, certainly. But today there’s something in the air, the faintest hint of some sort of otherworldly energy; Aziraphale pauses, just outside the woven tarp of Itoztia’s door. He takes a step forward. It doesn’t taste like anything human, nor does it taste like any of the things humans create and give power to through their faith. Instead - Aziraphale takes another step - it’s smoky, and smells like wisps of darkness, but there’s something… familiar about it.

Of course. Aziraphale finds he’s walking into the marketplaza before his brain catches up to him: Crowley’s here.

Oddly enough, the thought fills him with ...a strange kind of warmth. Of course there’s trepidation in it, and a sort of exasperation, but Aziraphale finds he’s almost excited to get to talk to — em, well, cross wits with his adversary once again. He and Crowley have certainly run into each other here and there, but their last real conversation was in a swamp at Wessex, not nearly as comfortable as Kalakmul’s brilliant sunshine. Still a bit damp, though, Aziraphale thinks, and much to his chagrin the noise he makes is almost fond. Which is surprising, because the memories of Crowley shouldn’t be; the demon continues to press him on an alliance, and Aziraphale doesn’t like the ways the suggestion makes sense.

He turns the corner and finds Crowley in the marketplaza, lounging before a stand full of hammered-gold trinkets; Aziraphale is sure that the demon’s as aware of his presence as he is Crowley’s, but he takes a moment to calm his fast-beating heart. Like Aziraphale, Crowley has adopted the local manner of dress: his skirt, banda, and rodillera are the warm burnt orange the wealthier commoners wear, decorated with the deep red of cochineal and the bright gleam of golden trinkets. Crowley is tipped with the same sunset-orange at wrist and bicep, and broad golden ornaments hang from his ears. He looks strangely intriguing in the local dress, especially with his red curls tumbling down his back.

He makes his way across the plaza and stops at Crowley’s side. “Fancy meeting you here,” Aziraphale murmurs, and even though Crowley hasn’t lifted his gaze from a golden pin he’s inspecting, Aziraphale sees the smirk spread across Crowley’s mouth. It eases something in him, to know that Crowley’s as pleased to see him - no, certainly not pleased; expectant, perhaps? - and that despite Aziraphale’s numerous rejections of Crowley’s proposal, Crowley still comes peacefully.

“Angel,” Crowley murmurs. “Mayan looks good on you.”

Aziraphale flushes. Perhaps he’s showing more - skin - than normal; his own loincloth and skirt are sky-blue, marked with golden stitching and the golden accessories Kalakmul has generously showered on their foreign visitor. The necklace he wears is a mix of pale turquoise and a variant of jade as blue as the ocean, in fat round beads that speak of luxury. “You’re certainly dressed in style,” Aziraphale replies, and Crowley finally turns to look him in the face. His golden eyes seem especially bright surrounded by all of these sunrise shades; Aziraphale blinks against the effect.

“Would you care for some refreshments?” Crowley’s eyebrows rise, and his smile turns — genuine, until it goes sly. “I’ve found something you need to try.”

———

Crowley watches as the angel sops up the last of the tomato sauce on his plate with the spongy maize bread. Aziraphale looks delightfully sated; it’s always been a good look on the angel, and Crowley probably shouldn’t enjoy it as much as he does, but demon, yeah?

They’ve moved out to sit on a sidewall, having finished their food. Aziraphale absentmindedly sighs, and then says, “So why exactly are you here, then? Fomenting war? Encouraging human sacrifice?”

Crowley makes a face. “Angel, you know better,” he says, a gentle chastisement; to his surprise, Aziraphale looks mildly guilty. “Tikal and Kalakmul foment so much war between them I’m surprised it isn’t alcoholic yet. And if you’ve been here longer than a day, you know as well as I do that the reports of blood sacrifices have been greatly exaggerated.”

Aziraphale sighs. “You don’t have to rub it in,” he says, somewhat peevishly; Crowley delights at it. “Heaven has me here keeping an eye on their pantheon, but I see nothing different than any other civilization I’ve been sent off to ‘monitor’.” The angel sips primly at his third mug of balche, and Crowley likes him better for it. “Actually, I’m starting to quite like it here. Have you seen their script system?”

Crowley shakes his head. The proprietor is signaling to him from the open flap of the tarp; Crowley holds up two fingers, gesturing at both himself and Aziraphale, and turns his attention back to the angel.

“It’s quite organized,” Aziraphale continues, “sets of glyphs and pictograms combined into blocks, two by two. The patterns affect the meaning of what’s written down. It’s surprisingly intricate. They can tell stories, Crowley: lovely, beautiful, human stories.” He takes another sip, and then his gaze meets Crowley’s for a second before glancing away. “And Heaven calls them heathens,” Aziraphale says, so softly Crowley can barely hear it over the din of humanity around them.

“Heathens.” Crowley snorts. “Did you know they’ve already discovered four of the planets? Lot of work went into those, let me tell you, and these clever bastards have spotted four of them already. Britannia should weep.

Aziraphale’s smile softens in pleasure. The angel’s too soft over humanity, and unfortunately, it’s one of the things Crowley likes best about him. “Did you know they’re only eight hundred and ninety years off calculating when the earth began?” The angel glances away, and Crowley has to cover a sharp breath at Aziraphale’s profile, pale and happy. “That’s the closest anyone’s gotten, I believe.”

“You should see their math,” Crowley tells him, trying to express seriousness over the fermented haze of the balche. “They’ve multiple ways of counting, depending on the desired outcome. Fascinating, it is.”

“It is,” Aziraphale echoes, and the look on his face turns suddenly melancholy as he turns his gaze back towards the marketplaza. “I’m sure it won’t last, of course.”

Crowley’s stomach sours. “Probably not,” he says, grimacing. “It’s far too lovely and advanced. Pretty sure one side or t’other’ll take offense soon enough.” He glances over at Aziraphale. “Er. You’re not here to, eh, ngh. You know?”

Aziraphale bristles, although it’s a soft bristle, cut through by the alcohol. “I — I certainly shouldn’t tell you,” he declares, and at once, Crowley’s tired.

“‘M not asking again,” he mumbles, hating the way Aziraphale always goes brittle. Their lives might be easier with some sort of arrangement, but at this point, Crowley’s just tired. He doesn’t need another rejection from Aziraphale. “All I’m saying. Anything this great is doomed, and don’t argue with me, history’s proven it.”

To his surprise, rather than retort, Aziraphale turns a bit inwards. His mouth wrinkles. “I don’t want to say that you’re right,” he begins, and Crowley doesn’t want to hear how that sentence ends, except that he really, really does.

Instead, he raises a hand and subtly signals towards the villa.

Crowley’s favorite waiter approaches, bearing a flat tray with two shallow bowls, a deeper vessel, and a number of ingredients displayed on terracotta. “Perfect,” he says, flourishing a gesture at Aziraphale.

The esteemed servant - Migael - kneels before them, resting the tray on the ground. The chalice is filled with water, and they both watch as Migael adds a premeasured amount of cornmeal, followed by a small cup of mixed chile powder. Migael swirls the pot in his hands, and then pours in a long draught of the local Mayan wine.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale murmurs, fascinated, but — Crowley raises a hand, wanting Aziraphale to watch this process.

The employee then picks up one of the strange-looking plants that lies, halved, on a golden plate. Migael scoops out the beanlike innards with his fingers and fills a bowl with them, grinding them down into a paste with a pestle decorated with sharp turquoise inlays. He then slits open a single thin pod of vanilla and carefully scrapes the innards out into the same bowl, grinding everything together into a uniform mixture he then presents to Crowley. He nods at the esteemed servant, who then transfers the ground mixture into the liquids and begins whisking it by hand.

“What is this?” Aziraphale asks. They watch Migael start to pour the resulting liquid between two cups, over and over, a froth building up as the liquid aerates.

“Sacred drink,” Crowley tells him, and then murmurs like a secret: “Xocoatl. Drink of gods and kings.”

Aziraphale snorts, the sound strangely fond. “Cho-co-at,” he tries — close enough. “Why are they making it for us, then?”

Crowley wants to tell Aziraphale he couldn’t stop resonating divinity any more than Crowley can stop his own demonic yearning, but doesn’t. “Kalakmul is the Snake Kingdom, you know,” he says instead, grin handy.

Migael finally stops his ministrations and pours the drink into the waiting shallow bowls; each one is filled with only a pinky’s-width of space between the surface of the beverage and the rim. He hands one to Aziraphale first, then Crowley, and then picks up his tray of used items and bows as he vanishes back into the establishment.

Crowley gestures, then brings his bowl to his mouth — and waits, watching over the rippling surface of his own xocoatl, as Aziraphale takes his first sip.

The angel’s eyes close involuntarily, immediately. The noise Aziraphale makes is far too close to the kind of noise Crowley hears him make in dreams; Aziraphale swallows, and his eyes shoot open, bright blue-gray in the afternoon light, landing directly on Crowley. “What on earth,” Aziraphale begins, wondering; he then takes another sip, and his eyes flutter closed again. Crowley watches the swallow travel down that pale throat, and hears another noise, quieter but no less appreciative. He shivers.

Crowley finally caves and has a drink of his own. Xocoatl is one of the greatest things he’s ever tasted. Cold and frothy, it tends to the savory rather than the sweet, although the recent addition of the vanilla beans ground into the cocoa has balanced the drink significantly. The spicy chiles balance out the rich depth of the wine. It’s unlike anything he’s ever tasted.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale breathes. “This is remarkable.”

Crowley, suddenly embarrassed, shrugs, although he can’t keep the genuinely pleased smile from his face. “Thought you’d appreciate it,” he says, managing to not stammer. “Deliciousss, isn’t it?” The hiss is a dead giveaway, or would be if he thought Aziraphale spent as much time watching Crowley as Crowley spends the other way.

He finally brings his eyes up to meet Aziraphale’s. What he sees is simple delight: in the earthly tastes and arts of the humans, and in the companionship as well, a simple joy that Crowley would bring him this treat.

Aziraphale, to his surprise, lets Crowley see all of this. He deliberately closes his eyes and bends to take another drink from his shallow bowl; the angel slurps, and Crowley suddenly laughs, too intricately fond for words.

“You know,” Aziraphale says slowly over his saucer. “It can’t really do any significant damage to just … tell you … this time, at least. I’m not here to do any, well, smiting of any kind. I was simply told to ‘keep an eye on them,’ and only act in ‘ways that might bring them to the Almighty.’” Aziraphale’s snort at that might be the most glorious thing Crowley’s ever heard. “And to be perfectly honest, my dear… it’s lovely enough here that I’m not exactly eager to find anything in the next few weeks or so.”

Something bright-hot spreads out inside Crowley’s chest, as warm as the chiles and as delicious as the cocoa beans. “Same,” he says, and then stumbles over it; “I mean, ngk, not the same, but just here to observe really. If I see ‘chances for great temptation’ I’m of course supposed to jump at them, but I must be slowing down in my old age, angel, cause I haven’t found any yet.”

Aziraphale tips his saucer up to swallow the last of his xocoatl, his eyes fluttering shut in that way that makes Crowley think only of worship. “Well, then,” the angel says, and he opens his eyes and smacks his lips in a satisfied way Crowley’s demon parts appreciate more than necessary. “Perhaps this is a chance to … mutually investigate?”

The smile blooms across Crowley’s face before he can stop it, but he can’t regret it, either. “Stick with me, angel,” he says, knowing how deeply he truly means it. “I’m sure we’ll find something.”

———

“Cocoa?” Crowley calls from the kitchen of their South Downs cottage.

Every time Aziraphale has had chocolate over the years he’s been reminded of that very first taste, in Kakamul, the day he’d agreed to their Arrangement. Even the night Agnes Nutter’s words had called out both him and his cocoa — even then, even knowing he’d lie to Crowley about the Antichrist, he’d still replayed the fond memory in his head sadly as he reheated his mug.

So many years. So many different kinds of hot chocolate. None of them had ever tasted as wildly lovely as that very first mouthful. Not until now, because Crowley makes it for him now, and Aziraphale can taste the love in every sip.

“Cocoa sounds perfect,” he says. “Thank you, my love.”