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Better Than A Win

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"So have you two been together long?" Anathema asked.

Crowley was over for tea. He felt a bit twitchy, knowing that Adam Young lived just down the road, but it was perfectly acceptable for a demon to go visiting a witch, especially a witch who could bake such delicious scones; and Crowley had no intention of messing her about. In fact, she'd been the one to invite him.

At the moment she was peering expectantly at him over her teacup. Crowley reviewed the question, and the intention behind it. Aziraphale would have missed (or perhaps deliberately ignored) the nuance of together, but Crowley was a man-shaped being of the world, and knew what was being asked. "We've been around since -- for a while," he said. "But it's not like that."

"Oh." Crowley could almost see Anathema shuffling through possibilities in her head, and rejecting them as unlikely or impolite. "I expect angels don't do that sort of thing," she settled on, and though she didn't say At least not with demons, Crowley caught the implication.

He smiled. It wasn't a very nice smile, but it wasn't the sort of smile that sent small creatures scurrying for cover, either. Anathema just sipped her tea composedly. "No," Crowley said. "Angels don't."

*

This was not, in fact, strictly true.

Many angels did, or had, nearer the Beginning before angelic offspring started crowding up the place and the whole thing was called off. Crowley had stayed well out of that, and as far as he knew, so had Aziraphale, although he'd never bothered to ask. They had long since come to the implicit understanding that their affairs were their own, although of course there had been a handful of times in which Crowley had tempted someone to evil by way of seduction, and Aziraphale had thwarted; but that was strictly business, and therefore acceptable.

"Does tempting them to the ways of the flesh help you tempt them into other things?" Aziraphale had asked once, outside a Spanish tavern in 1066. There was a very pretty boy sleeping in the back room, and Crowley had been in more than a good enough mood to share a drink with Aziraphale.

"Sometimes," Crowley said, shrugging. "No great loss if it doesn't work, though, to be honest. Feels bloody good." He grinned sharply at Aziraphale, who gave him a look of blushing disapproval, but that was mostly habit.

Aziraphale just didn't go in for that sort of thing.

Crowley considered it sometimes, how it might be to drag Aziraphale in by the lapels of his ridiculous tweed jacket and kiss him, strip him down and by clever degrees convince him to make an effort, materialize a bed and have his wicked way with the angel. But that was where it all fell apart; Crowley could imagine Aziraphale doing it out of curiosity (provided he hadn't satisfied that piece of curiosity long since), or because he wanted to please Crowley, or even because it felt bloody good, but that was all ridiculous. Aziraphale wore bodies absently, like slightly ill-fitting clothes, and miracled away every bodily function that wasn't dead useful, such as the ability to get really impressively drunk. Aziraphale's earthly delights were emphatically not of a sexual nature.

If Crowley were completely honest, he'd admit that sex was all very well, if a bit messy, but then, the same could be said for really good ice cream. The thing about being an essentially ethereal -- or, in Crowley's case, occult -- being was that, even if he took better care of his than Aziraphale did, Crowley's body was still just the object he was in. It couldn't offer really amazing transcendent experiences, not when Crowley remembered -- other things, from a long time ago. The past is another country.

The point was, he and Aziraphale didn't call each other angel and my dear because they were spending quality time together naked. Humans and their silly human assumptions, Crowley thought, and thanked Anathema for the tea, just to knock a few more of her assumptions askew.

*

"I hope you had a pleasant visit with Anathema?" Aziraphale said over dinner.

""s okay." Crowley topped off their wine. "She makes a mean scone. And she wanted to know if we'd been together long."

He more than half-expected Aziraphale to chuckle indulgently, but Aziraphale gave him a bright look and asked, "What did you tell her?"

Crowley shrugged. "I told her it wasn't like that, you know, angelic beings and pleasures of the flesh and so on. Of course she thought that if we slept together I'd cause your Fall or something --" He stopped, tripping over the last few words. Aziraphale was giving him a very peculiar look, almost like pity, but full of empathy rather than condescension. Crowley squirmed. "What?"

"Would you like to?" Aziraphale asked.

Crowley blinked.

He pictured again that vague consideration of dragging Aziraphale in for a kiss, this time brought into sharp focus by Aziraphale's offer. Perhaps, Crowley realized, feeling a bit floored, now was a reasonable time to really consider it. After all, they'd tried to stop the apocalypse together, and even admitted they liked one another a bit; the next reasonable, human step might very well be to fall into bed together. It obviously wouldn't get them into trouble. It might even feel really great. But --

But they would have done this a long time ago. Crowley could remember hundreds, maybe thousands, of late nights in the back rooms of bookshops and pubs, theatres and libraries and bathhouses, across three (or possibly four or five) continents and six thousand years, running into Aziraphale by accident or design, and talking. Just talking, about everything -- death and taxes, the latest human folly or brilliance, the play they'd seen, their hopes and predictions for the future, the ineffable plan. Crowley could remember the slow sloughing-off of the furtive quality that had hung over their meetings for the first few millennia, and his pleased, smug relief when he'd realized their Arrangement had already been in place for ages, a solid certainty to fall back upon.

There was nothing on this mad messy brilliant Earth that Crowley loved more than the frisson of joy and satisfaction he got out of a good, century-long philosophical debate with the angel, a pleasure to be savored over years, a long game in which a draw was far better than a win.

Angels didn't do that sort of thing, not for so long. Most of them took a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am approach to smiting. Crowley suddenly felt a little shivery, and quite off-balance, not that he intended to allow Aziraphale to see it. He settled back in his chair with a grin and an air of nonchalance.

"I'm not going to sleep with you," he said. "You'd be a rubbish lay." Before Aziraphale could take this as a challenge, he added, a little more persuasively than he'd really meant to, "Anathema sent me home with scones and jam for dessert; can I tempt you?"

Aziraphale smiled at him, a slow soft indulgent smile that made something in Crowley, that had nothing to do with his body, go molten with pleasure. "Yes, dear boy," Aziraphale said, "I believe you can."