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This is the trouble with endings, you see. More to the point, this is the trouble with happy endings.

The story concludes. The enemy is thwarted. The lovers embrace. Confessions are whispered into the dark. Fingertips brush and excitement swells with the knowledge that lips will soon follow. The sun rises, and sets, and rises again. The Earth keeps turning, and everyone feels just a little bit lighter for it.

The pages tell you that the tale has come to an end, and so you can close the novel, sated and satisfied. You can turn off your light, nestle into your pillow, and drift off into sleep. Maybe you’ll dream of them, of the lovers you’d become so invested in, and maybe not. But what does it matter? Their saga is over, wrapped up in a tidy little bow that’s meant to put your mind at ease.

(Because that’s the thing, isn’t it? That’s what you had wanted, what you had been waiting for with bated breath. The star-crossed romantics had always been intended to fall into each other’s arms, victoriously proclaiming their love to the Heavens. There had never been any room for the blood and the bone and the pain, for all those ugly things that come screaming into the world hand-in-hand with their joyous and beautiful counterparts. When you want to pretend, hurdles exist only to be overcome.)

You’re never meant to wonder what it is that comes next. 

But the Earth does keep turning, even when the ink has run dry. 

You can’t remain in limbo forever. There is always something waiting on the other side, so choose your fate and choose it well. 

Choose happiness, choose love, choose victory.

(It isn’t always that simple. It would be too easy if it was.)

It’s been three weeks now. 

An apocalypse has been averted. The forces of Heaven and Hell have been bested. There’ve been dinners at the Ritz and picnics in the park and leisurely strolls through Soho, all of which have been topped off by nights of drinking and raucous laughter. It’s an easy and familiar dance, and the angel and the demon that are caught up in its midst have long since mastered it. This game of yes-but-no. Of cat-and-mouse. Of push-and-pull.

(There are but a few steps to this dance, but each of them is crucial. Listen closely if you’d like to learn. To start with, there are longing looks and swallowed confessions and repressed emotions. Now take a step back, because you’re too close to continue. 

Good. 

Carry on, and pretend that you can’t feel the twined sensations of love and resentment that crackle through the air like bolts of electricity. Whisper tender things under a clever ruse of something else. Pass each other like ghosts, like ships in the night. Give your dance a name; call it something true, but something that stings. For your purposes, ‘The Arrangement’ will work nicely. 

Step back again, and try to ignore the way your body cries out for your partner. Ignore, ignore, ignore. 

Engage in clandestine rendezvous. Lie about why. Spend innocent nights together, but make sure to keep your distance. Sit across from one another and laugh, and pretend that you don’t hear how hollow it sounds. Maintain plausible deniability for the sake of whoever may be watching or listening. 

Hold a heart in the palm of your hand, and watch it wither. Watch it swell. Watch it skip a beat. Reach out, and then pull back.

There. Well done.

Take your pain, take the stiffness of your screaming joints, and grow accustomed to it. This will hurt, at first. It will seem unbearable. But just give it time. In six thousand years or so, you’ll soon find yourself marveling at how adept you both are.)

It’s been three weeks, and everything is just as it should be.

Or it is, right up until it isn’t.

Because that’s the thing about happy endings: the aftermath. What do you do when you’ve been cut free? Do you continue on as you have for millennia, or do you make the decision to enter a brave new world?

To fall?

Here, in this particular aftermath, Aziraphale settles his hand over top of Crowley’s own, and the world seems to come to a screeching halt. It gives a funny sort of lurch, one that tugs at something behind Crowley’s navel. 

(Their knees are touching, their bodies inclined towards one another like two planets being pulled in by the other’s gravitational plane. This isn’t part of their dance, so how long had they been sitting this way?)

Crowley had been in the middle of saying…. something. Something he can no longer remember. Something that must not have been very important. The words are stuck in his throat, sitting perched right at the edge of his tongue. Yet the only thing that actually passes his lips is a startled little breathy sound.

In the light of the sinking sun that streams in through the window behind them, Aziraphale seems to glow. The emerging starlight kisses his hair, forming a sort of halo around his mop of white-blond curls. 

(And isn’t that just perfect?) 

He is undeniably radiant, a shimmering galaxy entirely unto himself. 

(Crowley should know. He isn’t unacquainted with the galaxies.) 

His eyes are kind, and his touch is gentle. His pinky brushes against Crowley’s, and then he smiles.

He smiles at Crowley.

It’s such a fond thing, soft and brimming with affection, and Crowley wishes he could reciprocate it. Doesn’t understand why he suddenly finds himself unable to.

But at the very center of Crowley’s chest rests an almost unbearable weight. He inhales deeply just to remind himself that he can, and he tries to ignore the feeling of his skin stretching taut over the sharp bones of his ribcage. Tries to ignore the shaky sound of it, wavering and unsteady. A very familiar ache, an ache that’s been plaguing Crowley for millennia now, an ache that reminds him that, yes, this is what he wants, but this is what he’ll never be allowed to have, worms its way around his heart, nestling beneath his muscle and his sinew. 

It pulses slowly and sluggishly, like blood behind a bruise. 

Crowley feels… wrong. Wrong in a way that he doesn’t quite have the words to explain. 

There’s a maddening itch running rampant through his veins. It’s all fire, burning through his blood and lapping at the wounds that mar his tattered soul. Crowley wants to claw at his skin to release it, to bite and gnaw and scratch like a feral animal, tearing away pieces of himself until nothing remains but his bloody teeth. 

Run. He should run. This is not permitted. This is how it feels when a demon covets an angel, and this is not allowed. Leave. He should leave. 

But he can’t move. 

This should be the easiest decision Crowley has ever made. All that’s required of him is three things: to trust, to be open, and to squeeze Aziraphale’s hand.  

Three things, and fate would handle the rest. Endless possibilities would fall at his feet. He could have anything. He could have the world. He could possess Aziraphale. Could fall to his knees and pledge his unwavering devotion. Could worship him; kiss him, cradle him, fuck him, claim him. 

Crowley could love him, as he has waited eons to do.

(But do you deserve that?  his mind whispers to him. 

Do you, Crowley the Serpent, the tempter, the fallen, the corrupted deserve such a thing as loveit hisses, full of malice and scorn.)

After more than six thousand years of circling each other, they are finally free. Free to simply be. No more fear. No more cloak and dagger. No more secret arrangements. No more “fraternizing.” No more hiding. 

They’re free, and yet the pull of Crowley’s shackles has never felt more prominent. For the first time since his Fall, Crowley feels inescapably bound to Hell.

(Because here’s what you need to understand about Crowley: being a demon had never held any significance for him. It had never brought him any joy, even when he was young and Hell was fresh and he’d burned with incomprehensible rage. Hell had been built upon rejection, and the servants of Hell had rejoiced in it. 

But not Crowley. Never Crowley.

The memories of his Fall had always felt too fresh. They had never quite left him, choosing instead to linger at the edges of his mind, acidic and corrosive as they’d unfurl within the confines of his dreams and turn them into waking nightmares. Most demons had forgotten their own, some by choice and some by happenstance, but Crowley never could.

They’d haunted him. Tortured him.

The sensation of his Mother’s wrath tearing through his celestial form. The shards of his shattered halo falling like splinters at his feet. The pain of slick pitch blackening—.no, scorching —. his wings. The scent of the Pit, sulfur and brimstone and ash, filling his nostrils. The taste of the blood and the tears and the suffering of all those who were, and all those who were soon to come, exploding upon his tongue. The memory of his last private moment with his Mother flashing behind his eyelids, all of Her love bleeding away from him at the same instant that he’d reminisced about the fond and reverent way she’d once touched his hair, making him beam with pride as she’d explained that it would one day inspire the streaks of red that color the sky at sundown. The echo of the anguished wail that had torn free from his throat as he’d been cast out, all of his desperation and longing and agony exploding in one single, powerful burst.

Even now, Crowley can feel all of that thrumming through his system, fresh as the day that it had occurred. It reaches as far deep as his atoms—

—Crowley had used some of those very same atoms when helping to craft the expanse of the universe; as a result, the feeling of starlight upon his skin will forever cause a rather pervasive sensation of longing to bloom somewhere deep inside of him as the matter of the universe, the stuff at the very heart of it, calls out to what it recognizes in Crowley, much in the same way that a child might call out for it’s mother—

—and it makes his stomach twist. His Mother had made him in Her image, had crafted him out of nothingness to be a beacon of Her love and Her light, and then She had ripped that all away and left him in the dark. Left him in the cold. 

Crowley was one of the unworthy. One of the unwanted. 

A mistake. A stain upon Her name. 

So Hell could take their rejection and revel in it all they wanted, but fuck that. It gave Crowley no solace. No peace of mind. He’d done his job and he’d done it well, but he could find no meaning in a life that was meant to be lived in the shadows.

From that first day in Eden, from the very moment that Aziraphale had taken a chance and sheltered him from the cool, sweet kiss of rainwater, Crowley had spent century after century longing to be brought back into the light. 

He’d wanted to be worthy. Wanted the feel of something delicate beneath his palm. Wanted the taste of something holy on his tongue. Wanted to burrow in the warmth of divinity until it threatened to consume him whole, bones and all.

So why is it that now, here at this instant when everything he’s ever desired is being offered to him, does he find himself being lured back into the dark?

To the fate he’d never asked for, yet been forced to endure anyway?)

A little crease forms between Aziraphale’s brows, and Crowley’s heart leaps into his throat. 

A line of tension settles across his shoulders, and Crowley’s mind whirls with panic. 

A tick (of anger? of disappointment? of regret?) settles into his jaw, and Crowley suddenly can’t breathe.

No, no, no, he wants to scream, dizzy with fear. Don’t pull away. Don’t give up on me. Don’t let me go. Please don’t let me go. I couldn’t bear it.  love you. I’ve always loved you. I’m here. I love you. I can’t lose you now. Don’t turn me away. I love you .

“‘Ziraphale,” Crowley finally manages to croak. He sounds half mad, he thinks; desperate and deranged.

He swallows around the dryness of his mouth, working against the trembling of his fingers as he turns his palm upwards and clasps Aziraphale’s hand. Squeezes with enough force to turn his knuckles white as he murmurs (begs, pleads), “don’t, don’t go.” 

Aziraphale blinks. Then he blinks again. “Go?” he repeats, a tinkling hint of amusement curving around the word as it leaves his mouth. It isn’t much, but it’s enough to ease some of the suffocating pressure in Crowley’s chest. The tension is abating. They’re dancing again. (But this is a new dance, after all, so some missteps are to be expected.)  “Darling, I don’t believe you’re letting me go anywhere."

Crowley slumps forward, settling his elbow on his thigh. He closes his eyes behind the darkened lenses of his glasses, pinches the bridge of his nose, and says, “I thought you were angry with me.”

Aziraphale makes a confounded noise. A ridiculous, silly sounding gasp that Crowley has become quite accustomed to. It’s familiar, and the familiarity comes with a hint of comfort. “Angry? Why ever would I be angry with you?”

“Dunno.”

Because perhaps you thought that you had made a mistake. Because I know what that’s like, making mistakes and moving too fast. Because you doubted. Because I made you doubt. Because I understand how it feels to be denied what you want. Because I’ve been angry with you too many times to count. Because that’s who I am; I’m a sinner, a foul and ugly creature, twisted and malformed by wrath and by lust. 

“Crowley.”

Aziraphale’s voice is as soft as ever, but there’s a hardened edge to it, lurking just beneath the surface. It coils around the letters of his name, and Crowley shivers in response. It’s different, this rough, chiding thing. It’s different, and Crowley likes it. 

Exasperated, Aziraphale tuts at him and says, “you wouldn’t have said it if you didn’t have a reason.”

Crowley snorts. 

Don’t you know me? Don’t you know me at all? Have you learned nothing? This is evasion. This is artful camouflage. This is a carefully constructed facade. How can you not realize that? (How can someone as clever as you be so stupid?) No, I didn’t mean that. Can you forget I ever said it? Forgive me. Wash it from my skin. Out, damned spot!

“‘S what I do, angel. I say all kinds of things without a reason. Always running my mouth, me. You know that. You’re the one that’s always on me about it.”

Aziraphale’s free hand comes up to cradle his cheek, and that puts an end to Crowley’s rambling. His mouth is like cotton, his pulse thundering wildly through his veins. His eyelids crack open, and he braves a glance at Aziraphale out of the very corner of his eye. And oh , the way that he’s looking at him. It’s better than anything Crowley has ever imagined. It’s more than he could have expected. It hurts in the most delicious, glorious way. There’s tenderness there. Fondness, too. And though he may appear a bit befuddled, there’s something else being conveyed by the upward curve of Aziaraphale’s mouth and the gentle sparkle of his eyes. 

Crowley doesn’t dare put a name to it, lest he sully it for good. 

Lust, he finds himself thinking anyway. Wait, no. Not lust. This is different. This is more. This is something real, something he can chew. Love. It’s love.

Aziraphale strokes Crowley’s cheekbone and is polite enough not to mention the heat that rises in the wake of his touch. The pretty expanse of petal-pink that bleeds across all of Crowley’s contours and colors the tips of his ears. He handles Crowley with a special kind of delicacy—

too much, this is too much, I’m not this precious, I don’t deserve this, I’m not fragile or one-of-a-kind, I’m dangerous and deadly, I’m too rough to touch, knives and teeth and bone and shards of glass and things that are meant to hurt, I could break your heart if you’d let me, I could destroy you (but don’t stop, please don’t stop)

—and softly croons, “you ridiculous thing.” 

Crowley wants to sob. Crowley wants to scream.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale continues in a whisper. This is special, Crowley understands. This is sacred. “Keeping secrets has never been your strong suit, you know. Granted, I’ve watched you try, what with all that swaggering about and playing at fashioning yourself the next James Bond. But dearest, you’re quite the open book.” He grins, looking particularly proud. “If you’ll pardon the pun.” 

He’s ridiculous. Crowley loves him all the more because of it.

His touch moves upward, and Crowley suddenly feels hot all over. He knows what Aziraphale is after. What he means to do. Crowley just isn’t sure that he can bear it, being all exposed and vulnerable. Still, Aziraphale reaches for his glasses and asks, “may I?”

And Crowley nods. Sighs, “yeah, angel. Sure.” 

Anything for you. Do what you want with me. I’m yours. I’ve always been yours. Take my heart. Carve it out, and have a bite. It was never mine anyway. It belongs to you.

Aziraphale is particularly careful with Crowley’s glasses. He folds them up and tucks them into the front pocket of Crowley’s jacket, smoothing his hand over the fabric to straighten out invisible wrinkles. 

Crowley understands the gesture. Understands that Aziraphale is giving him a moment to compose himself. How can delicacy come so easily to you, you brilliant creature? How can you love so effortlessly? Doesn’t it hurt you, like it does me? Doesn’t it burn you? Doesn’t it threaten to consume you? No, I can’t imagine it does. Crowley could kiss him for it; could surge across the couch and send them both toppling backwards. If we fall, we fall together. It’s that simple. Aziraphale is only inches away. It’s as close as they’ve ever been. But a gulf remains between them (please don’t linger, I can’t endure this for much longer) so instead, he clears his throat, tucking an errant strand of hair behind his ear as he lifts his head. 

(Crowley’s curls have grown, falling around the dips of his collarbone just as they had in the Beginning. He could pretend that he’d done it for himself, just another one of his many changes, one of the many times he’d shed his skin, but the warmth that had spread through his breast when Aziraphale had looked at him with pupils that were just a bit too wide would alone be proof enough that it was nothing more than a lie.) 

Their eyes meet, and Crowley feels as though all the air has been sucked from the room. There’s so much adoration in Aziraphale’s gaze that Crowley fears he might choke on it. Surely Aziraphale can’t expect him to swallow it all. He’s not built for this. He wasn’t made for all the intricacies of love. The fact that he even can love is perverse enough. Blasphemous. It breaks the very rules of his nature.

(Or does it? His own voice echoes in his ears: “what if the Almighty planned it this way, all along?" What if She had? What if this was all just another one of her ineffable secrets? Crowley hopes. Oh, he hopes.)

“There you are,” Aziraphale murmurs. 

“Here I am.”

Do I please you as much as you please me? Do you want me? Do you desire me? Crave me? Would you move Heaven for me, as I would move Hell for you? What do you see when you look into my eyes? (Are they off-putting? Do they repulse you? I’ve never asked. I’m afraid of the answer.) Does the blinding brilliance of your soul reflect back when you look at me, or can you only see my own eclipsing darkness? I know that I have thorns. Don’t be afraid of them; I’d never let them hurt you. 

For the briefest of moments, a half-second flicker that no mortal could register, Aziraphale’s confidence seems to waver. He’s looking at Crowley, but he isn't. It’s more that he’s… looking through him. 

Aziraphale is a very gentle being. Crowley knows that better than anyone. But Crowley also knows that he was built to be a warrior. He is Aziraphale; Principality, Guardian of the Eastern Gate, protector of the Garden, wielder of a flaming sword. He smiles and he laughs and he radiates joy and affection in everything that he does, and he hides a belly filled with fire and a spine made of steel. 

Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t.

He could crush Crowley’s throat with a mere flick of his fingers (and here’s another thing that you need to understand about Crowley: he would let him), could shatter every bone in his body simply by applying just the right amount of pressure (Crowley would let him), could take chunks of flesh between his teeth and tear him apart (Crowley would let him), could beat him and bruise him and leave him ruined in ways that would never heal (Crowley would absolutely let him). 

But as he watches Aziraphale swallow and shift in his seat, hesitance scrawled across his delicate features, Crowley sees none of that. 

What is it, angel? Let me shoulder the burden. Let me endure the hurt. I’ll take it from you, and I promise I’ll smile while I do it. I’ll thank you for it. I’m used to it. Don’t be afraid of me. You make me powerless. But there’s no reason you always need to be the strong one. I’m sorry I’ve asked that of you. 

Silence stretches out across that gulf between them. It’s heavy and oppressive. It gathers in the corners of the room and winds around their bodies, filling the space (or lack thereof) between them. Aziraphale buzzes with enough nervous energy that Crowley can feel it roiling in his own gut, and it makes him want to scream. To grasp Aziraphale’s shoulders and shake him until he comes back to his senses. 

But he is patient. 

He waits. 

“There are so many things that I wish to say. I’ve been, we’ve been, waiting for so long, haven’t we? When I think back…” Aziraphale trails off, and sadness fills his eyes. “Well, there’ve been so many things that we’ve left unfinished. So many words we’ve left unsaid. And I hope that from now on, we can always be honest with each other.”

“‘Course.” Crowley doesn’t trust himself to say much more.

“I meant it, you know. When I said earlier that you’ve always been an open book. Perhaps it was never clear to anyone else, but it’s always been clear to me. There have been nights that I’ve… that I’ve done nothing but think of you. Cataloging all of your intricacies and your ticks. All the softer parts of you that you’d never let anyone else see.”

Soft? Oh, you’ve mistaken me. You’ve conjured up a shade. What have I told you about four letter words? Those are risky things. But they do come to you so easily, don’t they? Of course they would. They must taste like honey in your mouth. They taste like blood in mine. Like bile. Like acid. I’m not nice. I’m not soft. You make me feel like I could be, though. Keep spinning tales of sleepless nights. Tell me ever thought that’s ever crossed your beautiful mind. I’ll listen. Maybe I could even believe, one day. 

“So no, I wasn’t angry with you, dear boy. I was… I was concerned. I thought perhaps, after all this time, that you had changed your mind. About me.” Aziraphale looks overwhelmed, sucked in and overpowered by the unrelenting current of admitting such secret things. “I thought that you no longer wanted me.”

Crowley opens his mouth, but Aziraphale holds up a hand. His shoulders are squared, firm and steady. Let me finish, he says without speaking a word. 

“I’ve often wondered what you must think of me,” Aziraphale admits. “When I’ve treated you… well, when I’ve treated you the way that I have.”

Crowley frowns. “What’re you on about?” 

You can’t know what I’ve thought. How I’ve felt. I’ve buried it all so well, don’t you see? I would forgive you anything. Any faults, any jagged edges. Forget them. They’re gone. Out of sight, out of mind. 

The crease between Aziraphale’s brow returns. “Don’t pretend, Crowley,” he says sharply. (Ah, there he is. The feared Principality.) “I asked that we be honest with each other, and that meant something to me.” (This is what Aziraphale says. What Crowley hears is: “I’m not an idiot, Crowley.” We’re not back there. Tell me we’re not back there.) “I’ve hurt you. I know that I’ve hurt you. What good does it do to sweep it under the rug now? We have nothing left to run from.”

Crowley shifts his gaze. He stares down at their entwined fingers, and at his bitten nails and their ragged cuticles and the sparse groupings of freckles that decorate the curve of his wrist and snake upwards. 

So many little imperfections, even here.

“‘S fine, angel. I don’t dwell on it. You did what you had to. We both did.”

A beat of silence passes, and then Aziraphale’s hand cradles Crowley’s jaw. His knuckles bump beneath his chin, tilting his head up. Crowley’s eyes shutter closed reflexively. 

I’ll give you anything you ask for. You know that. But don’t ask for this. Not now. Too many old ghosts linger here. I can’t let you see them. They’d break your heart. I know, because they’ve broken mine.

Crowley can hear Aziraphale shift closer. Can feel the heat of him, blazing like a supernova. His breath wafts across Crowley’s face, and Crowley whimpers. He smells like apples; how did Crowley know he’d smell like apples? Fuck what he did in Eden. This is temptation. 

They’re speeding towards a cliff, the two of them. Perched right on the edge of the point of no return. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here . Because the quest of knowledge can damn you, didn’t you know? Crowley knows. He knows it all too well. The only thing that will come after this is knowledge, and that, that is a very dangerous thing. 

Still, Crowley leans in. Every molecule inside of him is screaming for more. More, more, more, more —oh. 

The kiss is soft. Inviting. Aziraphale lingers with his lips pressed against Crowley’s, and Crowley exhales shakily against his mouth. He finally releases his vice-grip hold on Aziraphale’s hand and slides his fingers up the angel’s arms, caressing the delicate fabric of his coat as he works his way up (and up, and up, and up). 

Crowley clutches at his lapels (Tadfield, a former hospital, Aziraphale crowded against a wall—yes, this is vaguely familiar, though it feels like a lifetime ago and light years away) and parts his lips, waiting for the soft groan of Aziraphale’s consent before he licks his way into his mouth. 

You even taste like apples. Did you know that I dreamed that you might? I don’t know why. I can’t recall you ever eating one. But I dreamt of you so often. Am I dreaming now? If I am, don’t ever let me wake up. I can’t go back. Reality could never taste so sweet. 

That’s all it takes to carry the kiss from something chaste into far more fervent and hungry territory. Aziraphale grips his hair, grips it with both hands, allowing the coppery strands to slip through his fingers like water, and Crowley gasps, “fuck."

It’s too good. It’s sinful. Aziraphale knows just where to lick, and just where to bite. He sinks his teeth into the flesh of Crowley’s bottom lip, and Crowley trembles. His hips give an involuntary jerk, and Aziraphale hums with satisfaction. 

The nasty, hungry pit in the bottom of his stomach gnaws at him, desperate to remind him of all their past transgressions against one another. To remind him of all of his doubts. 

Not allowed. Against the rules. Take your love and smother it, tempter. You can have this for now, but do you think it will last?

Crowley doesn’t stifle it. He lets it snarl all manner of cruelties, because for once, he can’t be bothered to pay it any mind. His heart is soaring, and he wants

He wants to be present. He wants Aziraphale to continue kissing him like he means to possess him. He wants to spend eternity like this, lips and limbs entwined. A thousand lifetimes could pass (consider the notion of immortality, and just how endless such a thing really is), and Crowley would still want to be right here, just as he is.

Aziraphale gives his hair a sharp tug, pulling his head back to bare the expanse of his throat. His thumbs press into the muscle at the nape of Crowley’s neck as he trails his lips down to his jaw, resuming his series of little kisses and nibbles there. Crowley’s head fills with static, ambient white noise that starts at the edges and works inward when he realizes that Aziraphale is marking him. 

Arousal burns in his belly, low and deep. He’s on fire. From the tips of his fingers to the tips of his toes, everything is ablaze. His hips give another jerk, and oh yes, there’s heat there too. Stubborn heat. Heat that refuses to abate, no matter how tightly he squeezes his thighs together.

He wants, he wants, he wants.

Aziraphale kisses the bruise that sits just below the sharp jut of his jaw, and Crowley squeezes his eyes shut tighter when a dry rattle of desire shoots down his spine. There’s that ache again, a little seed that takes root in the hollow between Crowley’s ribs. It makes his heart go haywire, beating against his bones. And Crowley takes another breath to try to expel it, to push it out once and for all, but then Aziraphale says, "oh."

He pulls back. “Crowley, will you look at me?”

It’s meant to be a question, but it comes out more like a command. Aziraphale’s voice is gruff. Hoarse. And that hardened edge that Crowley had liked so much is back, leaving Crowley no choice but to comply. 

(He’s meant to be the one that bends peoples’—er, angels’, well, demons’, oh, whatever—wills. When did his own will become so flaky? Oh, right. Six thousand years ago, when one particular angel had sheepishly admitted that he’d given away his God-gifted flaming sword and stolen away with Crowley’s heart.) 

Crowley’s eyes dart around nervously before they finally land on Aziraphale’s swollen, spit-slicked mouth.

Oh, you’re beautiful. But why’d you stop? Was it me? Am I not what you had in mind? Did I push too hard? ( You go too fast for me.) No, no, no. Please don’t do this. Not now.

“My eyes are up here, darling,” Aziraphale says. Light. Amused. Crowley wants to say enamored, but that feels too presumptuous. “Please look at me. I want you to hear me when I say this.” 

“I can hear you,” Crowley grumbles.

Still, he looks up, longing for the camouflage of his glasses. If the desire that’s bled into all his nooks and crannies is anything to go by, his eyes must be fully amber with no traces of white to be found. He hates when they do that. Hates all that it reminds him of.

He swallows thickly, content to just take in the sight of Aziraphale as he mulls over what he wants to say. Pupils blown, cheeks flushed, collar (that completely asinine tartan bow-tie; okay, yes, in all fairness, he had once fantasized about having it shoved in his mouth as a makeshift gag, but it is ridiculous) rumpled. 

Beautiful, so beautiful. A work of art. Truly. I mean it. Only She could have crafted beauty like yours. And I’d listen to you talk for ages, angel. You know that. But I don’t want to bloody talk. Not now. Not knowing you can kiss like that.

“Do you remember what I once told you about flashes of love?”

It takes Crowley’s lust-addled brain a second to actually recall what the hell he’s talking about. “Erm, vaguely.” 

(He does, of course. He remembers almost every word Aziraphale has said to him. But he can’t have him knowing that.)

Aziraphale runs his thumb over the seam of Crowley’s lips. “So many times, I’ve felt them in your presence.” (Oh, Crowley isn’t sure he likes where this is going.) “I thought it was simple coincidence at first. But I’ve noticed them more frequently lately. And a moment ago, when I was…”

“What? Giving me a hickey?”

“Don’t be crass!” Aziraphale scolds. “But, well, yes. When that was… happening, I felt the most overwhelming push of it. Almost as if it were being projected. I could feel it everywhere.”

Shit. Fuck. Go- Sa- someone. I didn’t mean to do that. I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing.

“Huh.”

"Crowley."

“Yeah?”

Aziraphale looks a bit lost, like he isn’t sure if he wants to strangle Crowley or kiss him. Either option would be nice, really. Crowley can admit that. “It was coming from you. And it wasn’t a mere flash. I’ve never felt love that strong. Not coming from someone else, anyway.” 

Seconds tick by. They turn into minutes, and those tick by too. Crowley isn’t sure how to respond. He fidgets, wringing his hands. Another minute passes. And then another. Finally, Crowley reaches up to rub at his eyes and grounds out, “‘M not very good with words, angel.”

“Tell me,” Aziraphale says, gently. “Please. I want to hear it.”

Crowley leans in, nuzzling his nose along Aziraphale’s cheekbone. He gets in close (closeness is good for secret things, for things that are tender and reverent and hallowed), enjoying the soft skin and the smell of him. Books and cinnamon and tea and stardust. Aziraphale’s hand settles on his thigh, and one lone, single tear runs down Crowley’s cheek as he finally breathes out what he’s waited so long to confess. 

“I love you.” 

There. Now you know. Now you really hold my heart. Be gentle with it, please. Be gentle with me. Or don’t. Whatever you want.  I’m yours to do with what you will. You have me at your mercy. Truth be told, there’s no place I’d rather be. 

“Oh, Crowley.” 

The words hover there. Lingering. 

Crowley takes a chance and crowds in closer. He presses his lips to Aziraphale’s cheek, surprised to find that the skin is as wet as his own. “Hey,” he mumbles, though his own words come out sounding a bit sticky. “None of that. I won’t have it.”

“I’ve been so selfish.” Aziraphale reaches between them and settles his palm on Crowley’s chest, directly over his heart. “I thought making myself blind would ease things for the both of us. That surely we’d be better off that way. But I… I knew. You must have realized that I did. I wondered if it might pass, eventually, because I simply didn’t understand how deep it all ran. How… how pure it was. But now that you've allowed me to feel it— oh, I am sorry. I’ve kept you waiting so long.”

Crowley inhales sharply, and Aziraphale squeezes his thigh in response. “I should have told you ages ago,” he continues, sliding his hand up from Crowley’s chest. Aziraphale’s fingers curl around his throat instead, stroking his thumb over the hollow of it. “I love you, too.”

Crowley tilts his head. Bumps their noses together. He is utterly elated, so much so that he’s vibrating with it. 

“No more regrets,” he whispers. “We’re on our side now.”

Your mouth is made for sweeter things than mournfulness. Here, let me show you. Bring it back to mine. Devour me. 

Aziraphale exhales. Crowley swallows it down.

It doesn’t have the acidic burn he’s grown so used to. It’s not bitter. It’s not sharp. But nor is it sweet. It simply… is. It’s something new. Something that’s uniquely their own. And for the first time since Aziraphale had touched his hand earlier in the evening, Crowley can feel those invisible shackles coming loose. He feels every link in the chain cracking and finally crumbling into dust. He doesn’t need the fear of Hell to keep him grounded anymore. He has Aziraphale. 

Aziraphale’s fingers on his throat. His hand grasping his thigh. 

Our side. Yes, this is what it should be. This is what I want. No fear. No trepidation. Only this. Our balance. Your light, my dark. Let them bleed together. Let them mix. You, the sun. Me, the moon. 

“Crowley?”

“Mm?”

“May I… that is, would you be amenable to… would you like—.”

“Yes. Oh, yes.”

Aziraphale draws him into another kiss, and it’s smoldering. It’s intimate. The slide of their tongues. The way that their bodies slot together, free for exploration. 

Aziraphale pulls him onto his lap to straddle his thighs, and Crowley moans into his open mouth. He pushes, letting his love envelop them both. No longer hesitant. No longer shy. He wants Aziraphale to feel it. For it to have the same intense, heady effect that it has on Crowley. He wants to make Aziraphale dizzy with it, the knowledge of just how very cherished he is.

Sweeter things, my love. Do you see now? I don’t pray, but I would pray to you. You’re the only God I know. Is that sacrilegious? Perhaps, but I don’t care. I live to serve you. Your radiance. Your Grace. I have none of my own to offer, but if I did, that too would be yours. Would you take me? Take my body. Take me apart. Put me back together, and start all over again.

Aziraphale’s hands explore, like Crowley is one of his books and he’s breaking the spine for the very first time. Careful, so careful. 

He touches his hair, touches his throat, touches his collarbones, touches the planes of his chest. He reaches around and touches the juncture between his shoulder blades where his wings come together, reaching into ether to stroke the tips of his fingers over downy black feathers. 

Crowley keens, trembling, and Aziraphale carries on. 

Touches his wrists. Touches his hips. Touches his thighs. Touches the back of his knee. Touches his calf.

Back up now, squeezing his shoulders. And now back down, brushing over each and every notch of his spine. 

Each press of Aziraphale’s fingertips is a balm. A salve for all his wounds. 

“Angel,” Crowley pants. A warning. A plea. “Angel.”

“Patience is a virtue, dear heart.” 

Wanton, Crowley begins to rock his hips. Spreads his legs a little wider, inviting Aziraphale’s wandering hands. “‘M not virtuous.” 

Aziraphale’s lips still against Crowley’s. “No, I suppose you're not. You wily demon.” All of his affection, all his love, is there, ringing out through those words. He trails back down to the bruise that he’d left on Crowley’s throat and runs his tongue over it. “Tell me what you want. I’ve thought of this moment, so many times. What I could do to you. Use my mouth. My fingers. My Effort. But tell me. Tell me, and it’s yours.” 

Such filthy words from such a divine mouth. I love your mouth. The mouth made only for sweet things. But yes, oh yes. I love this too. Command me. Guide me. Tell me all you want from me. Let me be good for you. I can do that. I promise I can. Let me be perfect, unsullied and unstained.

Crowley grounds down upon his thigh. He’s rutting, rutting like the feral animal that had earlier wanted to claw through the paper thin defense of his skin. “I want… ngk."

“Yes?”

He hisses out a garbled mess of consonants. Pleasure is invading all the empty places inside of him, making it difficult to focus. Aziraphale watches him through hooded eyes, calculating. Crowley continues to roll his hips against the meat of Aziraphale’s thigh, clutching at his shoulders. 

See me. Understand. Please, please, please.

“I think, perhaps,” Aziraphale muses as he settles his hands over Crowley’s hip bones, pressing his thumb into the dips, “that you’d rather be told. Is that it, my darling?”

Crowley nods, frantic. Aziraphale begins to direct his pace, moving Crowley’s hips to his own liking, and Crowley digs his nails into the fabric of his coat as he shudders, wholly lust-drunk. “Yes, well, there’ll be time for that later.”

Later? Oh, later. Yes, later. Promise me that. Promise me more. Promise me a second time. Promise me a future. Endless nights, just like this. 

“Take what you need, dearest,” Aziraphale tells him. “You’ve waited so long. And how could I ever turn down the privilege of bearing witness to such a beautiful spectacle? And you are so very beautiful.” 

Crowley whimpers. Aziraphale leads, and he follows. They kiss, again and again. And still, Crowley’s hips keep moving, guided by Aziraphale’s instruction. He speeds up, and Aziraphale slows him down. He slows down, Aziraphale speeds him up. He’s a puppet. A plaything. Serving at Aziraphale’s mercy, fulfilling his whims, just as he’d always longed for.

And it’s… overwhelming. It’s beautiful. 

Crowley is floating, remaining tethered to the Earth by Aziraphale only. 

He’d never have it any other way. 

Aziraphale does exactly what he’s always wanted. He takes him apart. He takes him apart slowly, until Crowley is nothing but a sweaty, quivering mess. 

Pliant. Begging. Whining.

And when Crowley is on the verge of having it all become too much, on the verge of coming tumbling back down, crushed under the weight of his own desire, Aziraphale gives him the sweetest gift of all:

release.

He kisses Crowley one last time, soft and sweet. Whispers, “let go, Crowley.”

Crowley cries out, and the sound is deafening. His hips stutter one final time, and his body is awash in pleasure. White explodes behind his eyelids. His ears ring. His heart stops, not that it actually matters. A ripple runs down his back, and then his wings are unfolding behind him, drawn out from the ether and made manifest by blinding ecstasy. 

By love.

He can smell them. Smell the lingering stardust that still clings to them, just as it clings to Aziraphale.

From nothingness and stardust into this: molecules and atoms and bones and marrow and sinew and muscle. Here, in these human forms, they are just the same. They are equals. Two hearts, beating in time. Beating with the same blood. 

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same. 

Aziraphale marvels at his wings, gleaming in the moonlight like an oil spill. He reaches out to stroke them, beckoned by the rapture scrawled across Crowley’s face. He strokes them until Crowley comes apart again, spine arching and Aziraphale's name falling from his lips over and over. A chant. An offering. A prayer. 

Crowley's entire form is singing, and he no longer feels quite so empty. No longer a devoid creature, full of vacant places. 

“Beautiful,” Aziraphale says.

Crowley opens his eyes as he works to catch his breath, and the naked adoration in Aziraphale’s open gaze makes him smile wearily. He presses their foreheads together, snapping his still-shaking fingers together to clean away the mess that had been drying cool and sticky inside his jeans.

“I love you,” he tells Aziraphale, just because he can.

“And I you.”

Crowley is quiet for a moment, and then a wide grin breaks out across his face. “So you’ve thought about me, eh? Carnally? What a wicked angel you are.” 

Aziraphale laughs. The sound of it is so infectious that Crowley can’t help but join in. “I’m an angel,” he manages between giggles. “I’m not a saint.” 

Crowley snorts. Drawls, “yeah, I’ve never met a ‘saint’ who could kiss like that. Bloody hell, I thought you were gonna discorporate me from that alone.”

Aziraphale colors, smacks Crowley on the thigh. “Foul fiend,” he says.

(It sounds strikingly like “I love you.”)

Crowley nuzzles closer, folding his wings back into nothingness so Aziraphale can hold him. He pets Crowley’s hair, and he purrs as he rests his head on Aziraphale’s shoulder. “We have some time before dawn,” he says, nonchalant. 

Aziraphale hums, twirling a stray lock of hair around his finger. “I suppose we do.” 

“Can I tempt you into giving a few of those fantasies of yours a try?”

I love you, I love you, I love you . Hear it in every beat of my heart. Know it. Memorize it. Let me scrawl it across your skin. Carve it on your bones. A watermark. A promise. Never forget it. I love you.

Aziraphale’s smile is absolutely blinding. He’d taken Crowley apart, but this, this touch, this smile, this easy intimacy, is slowly stitching him back together. 

“Temptation accomplished.”