Crowley held up a coin. “Flip you for it.”
“Oh no, you don’t.” Aziraphale waved his fingers and produced another coin from midair.
“Don’t you trust me, Angel?”
“Of course not. You’re a degenerate spawn of Satan. Heads or tails, dear?”
Aziraphale tossed his coin into the air, caught it, then held it out so they both could see it.
“Ha!” Crowley’s grin was gleeful. “Looks like you’re going to New York, then. Take a good coat and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“I doubt that’s possible,” Aziraphale grumbled. “What is it this time?”
“Same as usual. There’s a young man whom Below thinks has the potential to become a great leader, force for good, et cetera.”
“And I’m to tempt him in the other direction, of course.” Aziraphale shook his head. “Really, Crowley, don’t you ever get tired of it?”
“Not particularly. It’s my job, after all. When I get bored, though, it just means I need to be more creative.” He waggled his eyebrows.
“Creative? Oh, dear.” Aziraphale pushed to his feet with a deep sigh, and crossed to the back corner of the bookshop. “Apparently I’ve research to do.”
“Shall I open this bottle, then?” Crowley called after him. Aziraphale waved a hand in a gesture that might have meant yes, please do, but could also have meant bugger off, you great twat. Well, probably not the latter. Most likely somewhere in between.
Crowley poured two glasses of a particularly restrained Bordeaux and sat back down on the sofa to wait. Ten minutes later, his glass was empty, and Aziraphale continued to putter about in his dusty corner. Crowley eyed the other glass. It glimmered ever so softly in the dim light.
“You minx,” Crowley muttered, and reached for it, stroking the stem with his fingers. “Oh, all right. You’ve tempted me.” The glass sparkled.
Several more excruciatingly boring minutes passed, only made tolerable by perfectly balanced fruit and acidity, with a telltale whiff of barnyard on the nose. The muttering from behind the dusty shelves suddenly gave way to a gasp of surprise, followed by a chuckle. Crowley glanced over at that corner of the shop, but Aziraphale remained out of sight.
Crowley sighed dramatically at the ceiling, growing more impatient by the second. “What sort of research are you doing, anyway?”
“I’m working out how to be more creative,” Aziraphale replied.
Crowley frowned: he seriously doubted there were any books in this shop that would offer advice on how to turn someone towards evil. Well, there were the Jeffrey Archer books, but they were in another section entirely.
“Here we are.” Aziraphale finally reappeared from the rows of bookcases, a stack of leather-bound books in his arms. He set them on the sofa table and raised his eyebrows at the pair of empty glasses. “Was one of those meant for me?”
“Yes. You took so bloody long I drank it all.” At Aziraphale’s look of judgmental disappointment, he rolled his eyes and went to fetch the bottle.
When Crowley returned, Aziraphale had a large book open on his lap, his head tilted comically at the page before him as if he couldn’t quite make sense of it. Crowley went to fill one of the empty glasses. He gave the book a casual glance.
Time stood still for several moments while Crowley attempted to process the image on the page: it was a painting done in a very old style, depicting two naked people. One was upside-down compared to the other, and they were —Crowley squinted— yes, that was definitely an erect penis, halfway inserted into… right.
He set the bottle back down again, having done no refilling whatsoever.
“Is that...” He looked again to make sure he wasn’t imagining it. “The Kama Sutra?”
“Yes! Do you know it?”
Crowley blinked at him. “Of course I know it. That is not the point.”
“Hmm, maybe this one.” Aziraphale frowned, then turned the book upside-down. “Or is it supposed to be this way? No, I don’t think I’m quite that flexible.” He turned the page.
“Angel. What—” Crowley’s brain stuttered. It took a moment for the rest of the words to come out. “The fuck is this about?”
“Research, I told you.” There was a long stretch of silence, during which Aziraphale kept flipping through the pages of the Kama Sutra, as if it was a book of particularly lovely pastry recipes.
Crowley’s brain, having finally caught up to real time again, put two and three and one hundred forty-seven together all at once.
“Oh no.” He dropped his face into his hands. “No-no-no. Please tell me this isn’t what it looks like.”
“Crowley, what are you going on about? You’re the one who’s sending me off to do this temptation in your place.”
“That’s not what…” Crowley made a sound not unlike a sob. He couldn’t look up, couldn’t begin to face this. “Please tell me that you have never done this before as long as we’ve had the Arrangement in place. I don’t care if it’s a lie, just tell me that, for the love of all that is twisted and evil.”
“But.” Aziraphale hesitated a moment. “You said I was to tempt them. Isn’t that how it’s done?”
“No! I mean, yes, it has been done, obviously, but no, that’s not typically how one goes about tempting people in the current century.” Crowley gave him an incredulous look. “Is that seriously what you thought?”
Aziraphale blinked once, twice. An expression somewhere between dawning horror and embarrassment came over his face. “Er.”
Crowley took a deep breath. “Are you saying that, for the past few centuries, every time you’ve gone off to do a temptation in my place, you’ve… seduced them?”
Aziraphale’s cheeks reddened even more. “Well…”
“All of them?”
“Not all of them!” Aziraphale’s cheeks were pink now. “Only the ones who were keen.”
“I asked you to lie to me.”
“I can’t lie to you Crowley! I’m an angel, for God’s sake.”
“For God’s— All this time, you’ve been fucking mortals left and right and letting me file the paperwork as an actual temptation?” It was a wonder he hadn’t got called in for it yet.
Aziraphale hesitated. “I suppose it depends on how you define the word, really.”
“Oh, no.” Crowley did not like where this was going.
“Sometimes it was just, you know, a hand… task?” He made a not-so-vague gesture.
“Job,” Crowley whimpered. “Handjob.”
“Ah, yes. Handjob, thank you. Other times it was… oh dear, it has a lot of names, depending on the, er, other person’s particular… equipment.” He twisted his fingers in his lap. “You know, the one with your mouth. And your tongue.”
Crowley slid off the sofa and onto the floor. “Please stop talking.”
“Though now I’m curious: Does one use the form ‘to fuck’ if one is on the, well, receiving end, as it were?”
“Discorporate me, I’m begging you.” Crowley pressed his burning face into the sofa cushions.
“And does it matter which sort of parts I had manifested at the time? It’s all rather confusing.”
Crowley wailed in despair.
“Oh, honestly!” Aziraphale sounded nearly exasperated. “And you think me a prude.”
Crowley groaned. “M’not a prude. It’s impossible for me to be a prude. By definition.”
A hand settled on his shoulder and squeezed. “I’m sorry if you find my methods disturbing, but I did think that was how it was done. It’s not as if you gave specific instructions.”
“I honestly didn’t think I had to say, oh, by the way, Angel, shagging the would-be sinners is the least efficient way to go, so please think of something else.” Crowley gave him the most scathing look he could muster. “Sex with a handsome stranger is hardly the thing that tips the scales toward Hell these days.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale bit his lower lip. “I didn’t realize.”
“It hasn’t been that way for nearly a century!”
“I see.” Aziraphale’s expression fell.
“Are you… disappointed?”
“No, of course not!” Aziraphale closed the book and set it aside. “I’ve really made a mess of this, haven’t I?”
Any self-respecting demon would have leapt at the opportunity to twist the knife a bit more. Crowley’s self-respect had left the building centuries ago, though, at least where Aziraphale was concerned. His chest ached at the sight of him so genuinely upset.
“No, of course you haven’t. It was a good try, right?” He patted Aziraphale’s knee in a manner he thought might be soothing. “It’s kind of funny, when you think about it. You being all, oooh, how do I tempt someone to evil? I know! I’ll give them a wank in a dark corner, that should do the trick.”
“Shut up, you.” Aziraphale winced. “I really did think that was the job.”
“You thought I was having all sorts of athletic sex with humans, really?”
“Well, yes. I assumed it’d be easy for you, what with all your…” He gestured vaguely at Crowley where he knelt on the floor.
“Oh, come on. You have to know what you look like, all dark and mysterious and sexy.”
“And the way you walk! Good lord, Crowley. The way people look at you sometimes, what else was I to think?”
“That tempting humans with sex was a good idea, apparently.”
Aziraphale sighed. “I suppose I’d always been curious about it. It seemed a good opportunity to try it out.”
Crowley’s brain needed a moment to accommodate this information. It had never occurred to him that Aziraphale — or any angel, for that matter— might have dabbled in anything remotely carnal. As far as he knew, angels were above such tawdry pleasures.
Of course, Aziraphale was hardly a typical angel. He’d dabbled in so many other human pleasures, after all: food, drink, music, art, and even snuff for a while there. It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that he’d experimented with sex as well.
Even demons tended to regard the pursuit of human physical pleasures a waste of time. Crowley wasn’t typical in that way either. He’d been curious, had questions, and had taken the opportunity to play with humans in a variety of ways over the centuries. The shine had worn off at some point, though. He hadn’t done anything like that in a long time. He hadn’t even thought about it.
Watching Aziraphale sit there on the sofa, and knowing he’d been curious too, had tried it for himself…
Suddenly Crowley was thinking about it.
“So,” he said, with the air of one asking a child about their first day at school. “What did you think?”
Aziraphale looked thoughtful. “I liked some of it. Other bits I could do without, but… well. I suppose it doesn’t matter now. I’ll have to think of another way to accomplish a temptation.”
Crowley should probably offer to give him some pointers on that, but his mind seemed to have just the one track now. “Did you actually call me ‘sexy’, before?”
Aziraphale laughed. “I think you called me handsome’ first.”
“Well. You are, so.”
Aziraphale looked up at him, surprised. There was a tiny spark of something at the base of Crowley’s spine, fizzling just enough to make its presence known.
That was new.
“Sexy suits you, very much.” Aziraphale smiled fondly, then reached out to brush a lock of Crowley’s hair back from his forehead. “I’m sure you were very good at seducing people. Better than me.”
The spark split into a hundred pieces, each of them fizzling brightly now. Not new, actually; he remembered this part. Only, it hadn’t felt quite like this. Had it?
“Oh, I doubt it. All that wide-eyed innocence of yours could work to your advantage in a seduction.”
“I’m hardly innocent, my dear.” Aziraphale’s expression shifted into one Crowley had never seen on him before, one of lurid interest, a hint of something that looked very much like lust behind his eyes. Crowley looked up at him with awe as he slid his fingers under Crowley’s chin, brushed his thumb over Crowley’s lips, and winked. “See? I can be very seductive if I want to be.”
Crowley knew it was all an act, but the sudden heat in his belly was delicious. On impulse, he captured Aziraphale’s thumb between his lips. He flicked his tongue against the pad, then sucked on it properly.
Aziraphale’s eyes dilated very slightly, not so much that a human would notice, but it was as obvious to Crowley as the scent of sudden arousal in the air.
“Oh my,” Aziraphale said softly. He didn’t pull his thumb from Crowley’s mouth. “I didn’t realize fingers are so. So sensitive.”
Crowley doubled down, sucking his thumb in to the base as suggestively as he could manage. He sat back on his heels. “I’m happy to give pointers in this area, if you like.” He could probably dredge something up from memory. Or invent something new.
Aziraphale sat back, slightly breathless now. “But we aren’t… You said that wasn’t how it’s done anymore.”
“It isn’t.” Crowley pulled Aziraphale’s hand to his mouth and traced across the palm with the tip of his tongue.
“Then why—” He gasped and pulled his hand away. “Crowley, I don’t understand.”
Crowley didn’t understand himself, to be honest. He’d always been fond of Aziraphale, more than fond, really. There had been a time when he’d wondered — fantasized, truthfully— about what it would be like to strip an angel bare and bring him to earthly ecstasy. Aziraphale hadn’t seemed interested though, and Crowley had put it out of mind long ago. Something had changed though. They were more than acquaintances, even more than friends. Humans often assumed they were lovers.
What if they actually were?
“I’m not trying to tempt you, Angel.”
Aziraphale looked surprised at that. Crowley moved back up onto the sofa beside him, suddenly unsure of himself.
“Unless you want me to?”
Aziraphale pressed his hands over his face. “Oh, you must think me a fool.”
“Oh, hey, don’t…” Crowley tugged at his hands. “Come back here. Look at me.”
Embarrassment rolled off of Aziraphale in waves. “I probably didn’t tempt any of them, in the end. You could’ve got in trouble, just because I didn’t know what I was doing.”
That was true, but it hadn’t happened, and Crowley wasn’t going to dwell on it now. He bumped Aziraphale’s shoulder with his own.
“Might’ve actually blessed them all, by accident.” He smirked. “It’s almost like they were—”
“Please don’t say it.”
“Touched by an angel?”
Aziraphale groaned and bumped him in return, with the force of irritation behind it. “I’d make a terrible demon, but I think I’m even worse at being an angel.”
“You’d make a terrible demon, I agree. And I’m not the best judge of what makes a good angel, but you’re my angel, and I like you just as you are.”
Well, shit. He’d said more than he meant to. Aziraphale looked up at him, wide-eyed. No taking it back now.
“I am, you know. Yours.” Aziraphale’s small, tentative smile grew into one that was genuine, radiant.
Crowley stared back at him with what he knew must be a very dopey smile. Aziraphale reached for his hand and twined their fingers together. The sparks floating around Crowley’s insides settled into soft flutters. The urge to reach out and touch, to be closer, was nearly overwhelming.
This was definitely new.
Crowley leaned against him, sliding his free arm around the back of the sofa behind Aziraphale’s shoulders. “You really fucked all those people, for me?”
“I wish you wouldn’t put it so crudely. But yes. Does it make it any better that I was thinking of you?” He squeezed Crowley’s hand. “Every time.”
The sparks flared all over again. “I want very much to kiss you, Angel, so if that’s not what you want, you should tell—”
Aziraphale’s lips pressed against his, and Crowley melted into the first real kiss he’d had in centuries. It was light and warmth and everything Crowley could have imagined it would be. They parted several minutes later, both slightly breathless.
“You’re very good at that,” Crowley said.
“Are you surprised?” Aziraphale leaned in and kissed softly along his jawline, up towards his ear.
“Yes, actually.” Crowley’s eyes fluttered closed when Aziraphale nuzzled just behind his ear. “It’s been a while since…oh, I forgot how good this feels.”
“Need a few pointers?”
Crowley chuckled, then leaned back on the sofa, pulling Aziraphale down with him. Even something as simple as being pressed beneath another body was exquisite. “For an angel, you certainly can be wicked.”
Aziraphale touched his forehead to Crowley’s. “Come to New York with me. You can show me how to tempt humans in the modern era.”
“I’ve got a busy schedule, but I suppose I could manage.” He slid one hand along Aziraphale’s side, down to rest against his hip. “We can get a room at the W and you can show me all the ways you’ve tried to tempt them yourself.”
Aziraphale wet his lips with the tip of his tongue, and Crowley was mesmerized.
“You’d want to do that? With me?
“Absolutely.” Crowley tangled fingers into Aziraphale’s hair and pulled him back down for another kiss. “Tempt me, Angel, I’m begging you.”
“Is that what the humans are calling it these days?”
“No, they call it fucking, like they have done for centuries.”
Aziraphale’s eyes blazed for a moment, then he leaned down to kiss Crowley again. “We can do that too, if you like.”
Crowley had a feeling that he’d like it very much.