Someone has commissioned a custom banner. It reads Welcome Celestial And Infernal Colleagues and then, in a different, not entirely complementary font, to the SIXTH millennial interdisciplinary icebreaker!!! followed by a tiny addendum: with thanks to Our Hosts, the Humans of Bangor, Wales.
Three exclamation marks. Could be the work of Hell's design department (they're still riding the high of inventing Comic Sans), could just as easily be Gabriel following his 'artistic vision' over the objections of anyone else in the vicinity. Aziraphale takes a sip of the extremely average red wine that is his only alternative to - Heaven forfend - some sort of punch, and thinks that the way Michael's glaring at the banner probably points to Gabriel's involvement.
He doesn't often feel a lot of sympathy for Michael. He's too scared of her. But right now, he feels like they could, in theory, share a drink and a few looks of commiseration, at least if Aziraphale wasn't trying very hard to blend in with the wallpaper and the rather forlorn potted plant in the furthest corner of the room.
He hates these things. Always has. He still has no idea who came up with the ridiculous notion, or why they did it again after the first time, when Beelzebub kicked the shit out of fifteen angels (and two demons) who asked her if she was a succubus, Raphael insisted on playing a horn solo that accidentally summoned the newly-established Four Horsemen, and Sandalphon was caught sneaking out for a quick bit of smiting on the side. It's tedious, it goes on for hours, the catering is always firmly average regardless of time period or human culinary advances, and he never has anyone to talk to.
The worst part is he can't avoid catching sight of Crowley through the crowds, and every glimpse reminds him that he could be, if not enjoying the evening, at least sharing the misery in enjoyable companionship. Can't risk it, though: if they're seen in each other's company for too long, people might start asking questions about their so-called bitter rivalry on Earth.
This millennium they're in the sort of hotel that Aziraphale thinks, privately, only pops into existence for medium-grade corporate events. Nothing's exactly shabby, but only because it's all so clearly hard-wearing. There's a faint smell of cigarette smoke ground into the soft furnishings, bland and inoffensive art on the walls, and the carpet sports a pattern that looks like M. C. Escher went to town with a box of felt-tip pens. It makes your eyes go funny if you look at it for too long, so Aziraphale tries not to.
They're still at the stage of the evening where the room (miraculously able to hold the combined hosts of Heaven and Hell, to the confusion of the serving staff) is divided into two clear camps. The demons are skulking on one side, shooting suspicious glances across the way. The angels are definitely not skulking, because angels don't skulk, but the suspicion is mutual. The mingling won't come until later, when everyone's just inebriated enough to have a bit of swagger, and to think that approaching someone from the other side is a good idea. There will be a lot of pointed comments, a lot of sarcasm, and a few straight-up insults, but the first fight won't break out for, oh, at least four or five hours. Somewhere in between, a few people will actually have a pleasant conversation, but Aziraphale is already resigned to not being one of them.
He finishes the extremely average wine and, after a moment's contemplation of his own sobriety, heads for the drinks table. It only takes a smile and the barest nudge - really not much of a miracle at all - to persuade the server to hand him a freshly opened bottle. And if this one is surprised to find itself of considerably better vintage than its brethren, well, bottling errors happen, don't they? Labels mixed up at the vineyard and so on?
There's an argument happening over by the DJ's booth. Aziraphale hasn't been paying much attention to the music - it's all too modern for his taste - but he spots Beelzebub snarling at Gabriel, who looks put out.
"You can't juszzt play every szzong from the laszzt fifty yearszz with the wordszz angel or devil in the title!"
As if to make a point, the current tune - something soft and crooning - transitions without warning into crashing chords and hoarse yelling. Most people in the room wince at the sudden change of volume. The human DJ has a fixed look on his face, very much like someone who has already had this argument with Gabriel and lost. Aziraphale doesn't stick around to find out how Beelzebub fairs. Last time she and Gabriel got into it, furniture (and worse) was thrown.
As he wends his way back to his corner, he's surprised to see that a number of demons have broken ranks and are attempting to strike up conversations with their angelic counterparts well ahead of schedule. It's not going well for them, partly because everyone's too sober, partly because most demons' idea of a friendly greeting is something along the lines of What's up, fuckers, want to see my favourite boil?
Just as he passes one such group, a drink is thrown quite pointedly into a demon's face. Aziraphale doesn't hear the remark that prompted it, but he flinches, expecting the demon to immediately retaliate. Instead, she looks taken aback, then glares at the angel, snarls, "Prude," and stomps away. The angel glares after her with a mixture of contempt and indignation, then stalks off in the other direction. Aziraphale decides he doesn't want to know.
His corner is thankfully still free. He puts his back against the wall and considers the potted plant. He wonders if anyone would notice if he just sort of... made it bigger. Bush-sized, maybe. Large enough that he could position a chair right behind it and be conveniently shielded from view...
"Hello, angel," says a familiar voice, right by his ear. "Fancy meeting you here."
Aziraphale's head snaps around to find Crowley all up in his personal space, chin almost touching Aziraphale's shoulder. Crowley's leaning against the wall beside him, although leaning is hardly enough of a word to describe what he does when presented with anything that can plausibly support his weight. Is it possible to sprawl vertically? Lounge while standing up? Somehow give the impression that far fewer clothes are involved? It is if you're Crowley, apparently.
"What are you doing?" Aziraphale hisses, taking a big step sideways to put some distance between them and checking nervously for witnesses. "We can't be seen talking to each other!"
Crowely smirks at him over his latest pair of sunglasses, yellow eyes wicked and warm at the same time.
"We can tonight. All bets are off tonight. Or rather, they're on."
Aziraphale stares at him. He's wearing his usual all-black ensemble, but whatever current casual fashion is, he's disregarded it in favour of a sharply-tailored evening suit, a deep red bow tie and pocket square, and a shirt that's just a few shades towards charcoal grey rather than true black. He's wearing his hair long again at the moment, long enough that he's tied it back with a satin ribbon the same red as the bow tie, and he's opted for a single gold hoop earring on the right, just next to his snake tattoo. Aziraphale has to admit he's looking rather handsome. He feels a little self-conscious about his own well-worn waistcoat, plain cream jacket, and the tartan bow tie it didn't occur to him to change for something a bit smarter.
"What do you mean?" he asks after a moment. Crowley's always bolder than him, always more willing to take risks, but he isn't reckless, at least not where the Arrangement is concerned. He wouldn't be talking to Aziraphale unless he thought it was safe to do so. "What sort of bets?"
Crowley laughs, eyes flicking to the rest of the room. Aziraphale follows his gaze, and sees that the unprecedented demonic attempts at conversation have continued despite an increasing number of thrown drinks and affronted angels.
"We've got a bit of wager going on in Hell," Crowley says gleefully. "Something to spice things up a bit."
Aziraphale gets the familiar sinking feeling he always gets when Crowley is this pleased with himself.
"Oh dear. Will there be blood?"
"No, no, well-- I mean, maybe, guess it depends, you know, different strokes for different folks and all that--" Crowley cackles at Aziraphale's expression. "No, listen, they're not going to try and start fights. Quite the opposite. There's a lot at stake. You've never seen a prize pot like it. The winner's going to be rolling in it."
"Rolling in what, exactly? It's not like any of us need money--"
"Favours, mostly. Deals. Demons like deals. And getting to lord it over other demons."
"All right, I know I'm going to regret asking this," Aziraphale says, finally remembering to pour himself some of his purloined wine and taking a sip. He offers the bottle to Crowley. "What exactly does this wager entail?"
Crowley grins like the cat that not only got the cream but has absconded with the entire cow. He grabs the bottle and swigs straight from it despite Aziraphale's tut of disapproval.
"The pot goes to whichever demon can get an angel into bed by the end of the evening."
Aziraphale chokes on his wine, sputtering indignantly.
"Into-- into bed?"
"Or, well, y'know. Onto a bed. Or whatever flat surface presents itself." Crowley takes another drink from the bottle and waggles his eyebrows at Aziraphale. "We're not talking about sleeping, here, angel, is what I'm saying."
"Yes, thank you, I'm aware of the connotations--" Aziraphale grabs the bottle back from Crowley, quickly drains half his glass, then tops it up. "They can't possibly think they'll succeed. You know what my people are like."
"We like a challenge, down in Hell," Crowley says, still grinning at Aziraphale's flustered reaction. "And there's got to be some kinky bastard who'll at least think twice about it."
Aziraphale tries to glare at him, but he's aware he's blushing too much to really give it proper weight, and that Crowley is shamelessly enjoying his discomfort.
"Well," he settles for saying. "I suppose that explains the projectile beverage incidents."
Crowley gives a little snort of laughter and reaches for the bottle again. Aziraphale keeps hold of it, raising his eyebrows pointedly until Crowley sighs and miracles an empty wine glass into his hand.
"Word to the wise, steer well clear of that punch," Crowley says, as if Aziraphale would ever consider doing otherwise. "I saw Michael hanging around it a while back with this look on her face."
"The sort of look that says whatever the punch started out as, it's been spiced up with something a fair bit stronger."
"Oh dear." Aziraphale looks around for Michael, but can't see her. "Should we warn people--?"
"Nah. Everyone's got to let off steam sometimes, even the Archangel Michael. Besides, might help our wager along, who knows."
Aziraphale tuts and shakes his head.
"Utterly ridiculous," he says.
"Anyway, point is," Crowley goes on, waving the bottle vaguely at the rest of the gathering, "point is, that's why I can talk to you. Anyone who sees us will just think I'm seducing you."
Crowley is anticipating a number of possible reactions from Aziraphale to this statement. More blushing, maybe. A scandalised look. A gasp. One of the many, many entertaining ways Aziraphale tends to respond to anything remotely risqué.
He's not expecting Aziraphale's glass to pause halfway to his mouth, for Aziraphale to stare at him for about half a second, and for Aziraphale to then to double over laughing so hard he's in danger of spilling his wine.
"What's so funny, angel?" Crowley demands as Aziraphale half-turns towards the wall to hide his mirth.
Aziraphale shakes his head helplessly, straightens up, and wipes tears of laughter from his eyes.
"I don't think anyone will believe that, my dear," he says, mouth still twitching with amusement.
Crowley's entire thought process, which up until now has been largely focused on teasing Aziraphale and enjoying the fact that he doesn't have to spend another miserable evening avoiding Hastur's idea of small talk, comes to a screeching halt.
"Why not?" he asks incredulously. "I'm seductive."
Aziraphale almost chokes on more laughter, quickly taking a drink of wine to smother it. He takes the bottle from Crowley to top his glass up.
"Of course you are."
"I am!" Crowley insists, deeply offended. "I'm great at seducing people! Look at me!"
He gestures to his body, particularly the hips, which he's always been pleased with, and the long legs, which most oglers seem to enjoy. Aziraphale obligingly looks him up and down, but he does it with the absent air of someone who's seen it all before and isn't quite sure about that earring, dear boy.
"If I wanted to seduce an angel," Crowley continues indignantly, "I could."
"If I wanted to seduce you I could!"
At that, he does finally get a slight pink flush back onto Aziraphale's cheeks, but it's accompanied by the placid, smug little smile that is Aziraphale's equivalent of a smirk.
"Of course you could."
"Care for a demonstration?" Crowley slides along the wall a few inches, enough to lean into Aziraphale's space and peer over his sunglasses, narrow-eyed with what he's pretty sure is a smouldering gaze.
Aziraphale's blush deepens, but at the same time, his mouth twitches. A moment later he's laughing again, pressing a hand to his mouth in a vain attempt to quell it, and Crowley has never been so insulted in his life.
"Right," Crowley says, chugging the rest of his wine with the grim determination of a marathon runner. "It is on, angel."
Aziraphale stops laughing in a hurry, suspicion and alarm warring for control of his expression.
Crowley points at him with the hand holding the empty glass, even as he snatches the bottle back to refill it.
"You. Me. Seduction. I'm going to win that bet."
Some much-beleaguered part of his brain finally manages to get his attention and point out that he is merrily stampeding into extremely dangerous territory. It's not like he hasn't thought about stuff like this. He's thought about it quite a bit, if he's honest. But he's also been all too aware, for six thousand years, of the incontrovertible fact that trying to persuade Aziraphale to partake of this particular worldly pleasure could get him into the sort of trouble that Crowley is desperately, fervently determined not to bring to his door.
So even as he voices the challenge, he kicks himself, and braces for Aziraphale to suddenly stop laughing and start being offended, or hurt, or upset. To lose this unprecedented opportunity to while away the excruciating corporate party together. For that extremely dangerous territory to come alive with landmines and barbed wire and a thousand things they've never said.
Instead, Aziraphale looks at him, mirth creeping back into his eyes along with something else, that little spark of something Crowley can only ever think of as pure, unadulterated bastardry.
"What do I get if I win?"
Crowley blinks for the first time this evening.
"If I... refuse to be seduced." Did he think Aziraphale couldn't smirk? He's been wrong for six thousand years, apparently. "If I can hold out against your, ah, charms."
The way he says it catapults Crowley right back into righteous indignation even as he can feel a prickle of heat creeping up his neck. The bottle of wine is empty. That won't do. That won't do at all.
"If you can resist me for the whole evening, angel, I'll... I'll... I'll read that book you're always on at me about."
Aziraphale's eyebrows shoot up.
"Pride and Prejudice? Really?"
"Yes, really, only not really, because I'm going to win, obviously."
And Aziraphale smiles that little smile again.
"Of course you are, dear."
Crowley holds up a finger - stay there - shoves his empty glass into Aziraphale's free hand, then turns on his heel and heads for the drinks table. On the way, he passes a demon just in the process of actually, genuinely saying, "So did it hurt when you fell from Heaven?" and receiving the entirely predictable response from an actual angel who might just be a bit sensitive about the implications. Crowley winces with embarrassment-by-proximity, and ducks the plastic cup of punch that goes flying past his head.
The increasingly bemused servers (Satan knows how many miracles are being thrown at them to stop them noticing all the oddities) don't try to stop him walking off with three bottles of wine under his arm and a corkscrew in his pocket. He glances back towards where he left Aziraphale, who's currently hidden by the ebb and flow of the crowd, and moves with purpose towards the buffet table. It's mostly limp vol-au-vents and things on sticks, not a decent canapé to be seen, but needs must when the devil's trying to get laid and all that. He starts loading up a plate with the best of an insipid lot. At least there's plenty of good cheese. Aziraphale would commit cold-blooded murder for a decent camembert.
It's creeping up on him that he hasn't, exactly, got a plan, as such. He's never actually really seduced anyone, is the thing. He's been the object of plenty of lascivious attention, and used it to his advantage, but he's never had to work for it. It just sort of happens, and sometimes it's inconvenient but it's often a lot of fun, and sex is all right, really, as long as everyone's on the same page and no-one starts trying to read him poetry. His first impulse is to bring Aziraphale food and wine, but then, that's his first impulse on seeing Aziraphale, has been since, what, Rome? Those fucking oysters, he's never going to forget...
A flicker of motion catches his eye: Beelzebub and Gabriel are still arguing about whatever they’ve been arguing about for the last half hour. Beelzebub is already at the stage where she’s spitting flies and manifesting occasional bolts of lightning around her feet. Crowley wonders with some interest whether this will be the year she finally punches Gabriel into the sun.
So he may have been stretching the truth a tad when he claimed to be great at seducing people but really, how hard can it be? It's not like he hasn't seen the way Aziraphale looks at him sometimes. Like he's a first edition incunabulum that Aziraphale can't wait to get his hands all over, petting and stroking the pages, teasing them apart with deft fingers--
Crowley almost trips over his own feet and gives himself a quick, stern shake. He needs to focus. His reputation is on the line here, and he'll be damned - again - if he's going to give Aziraphale the satisfaction of reading that bloody book. And if it's also got something to do with the trickle of heat in his veins, the awareness that this stupid party might be literally the only chance he will ever have to try something like this without putting Aziraphale in danger... well, no-one else has to know.
Aziraphale has just started to wonder where Crowley has got to when he reappears with - oh, delightful creature! - a plate of nibbles and enough wine that they won’t have to brave the crowds again for a good long time. And braving is definitely the word. Repeated rejection does not seem to be putting amorous demons off their advances, and some of the angels are starting to get quite annoyed.
"They're not very good at this, are they?" he says as Crowley comes into earshot. "I'd thought at least some of them would be, well, a bit more subtle."
Crowley attempts to juggle three bottles of wine and a plate of food into a useful configuration, gives up, and glares at a small side table until it obligingly teleports over to them. He lays out his spoils as triumphantly as a victorious Roman general, but with that quick flutter of a glance, checking to see if Aziraphale approves, just like he always does. Aziraphale beams at him; Crowley pretends not to notice or care.
"Subtle?" Crowley scoffs, pulling out a corkscrew and opening the first bottle. As soon as he pours it, Aziraphale can see it's quite a different vintage from what is described on the label. Careless of the humans, really, getting so many bottles mixed up. "Ligur's been telling everyone all week about the time he got to seventeenth base. He barely knows what baseball is, let alone how to use a metaphor correctly. He's probably out there right now asking some poor angel about their batting average."
Crowley hands Aziraphale his glass.
"Half of them think sex is when you lick someone and run away really fast," he goes on with cheerful derision. "The other half flirt via grievous bodily harm, go straight to suggesting extremely specific fetishes, or are so used to dealing with hormone-addled humans they've forgotten they need to do a bit more than just start taking clothes off. No-one is going to win this bet."
Crowley smirks at Aziraphale and offers him the plate of snacks.
Aziraphale raises his eyebrows and takes a sip of his wine. Yes, a lovely, dark, velvety red, this one is, maybe something a bit more modern than their usual classic vintages, but just what Aziraphale feels like drinking on this particular occasion. He wonders how Crowley always knows.
"You'll enjoy Pride and Prejudice, I promise," he says reassuringly. "It's terribly funny, and very romantic."
Crowley shakes his head sadly.
"You don't know what you're getting yourself into, angel.".
Aziraphale makes a non-committal hmm noise and reaches for an olive on a stick. To his surprise, Crowley intercepts, snatching up the intended morsel and making a show of sniffing it appreciatively before locking eyes with Aziraphale and popping it very deliberately into his mouth. Aziraphale is fairly sure that this should not be such a complicated endeavour as Crowley makes it look, and that there definitely doesn't need to be so much tongue action involved.
"I thought you didn't like eating."
"I don't much like the chewing," Crowley says, the cocktail stick settling into the corner of his mouth like he's in one of those Spaghetti Westerns he makes Aziraphale sit through sometimes. He swallows without breaking eye contact. "I'm perfectly fine with putting things in my mouth."
"Oh, really, my dear, and you were calling them unsubtle."
This time Aziraphale succeeds in securing his own olive. He pointedly does not look at Crowley while eating it. Somewhere in the crowd, there is an outraged angelic voice, a howl of pain, and then a heated argument about whose fault it is.
"I told Moloch to leave the dagger at home," Crowley mutters. "He's gone and dropped it on his own foot again."
"He thinks he can do that knife flipping thing." Crowley finally removes the cocktail stick from between his teeth and it vanishes somehow as he reaches for another olive. "He's wrong."
"Oh, that reminds me," Aziraphale says, Crowley's little trick making a connection in his mind. He balances his own leftover stick between thumb and forefinger. "I saw the most wonderful demonstration of prestidigitation the other day--"
"Presti-- oh no, no, Aziraphale, not here, don't--"
"No, Crowley, you'll like it, it's terribly clever--"
"If you end up stabbing me with that thing, I'll bite you, I swear, I'll get the fangs out specially and everything--"
"See, first of all you start to spin it, like so-- oh."
They both watch the cocktail stick soar dramatically over the heads of the crowd and vanish. From the raised voices that follow, it seems to have landed in someone's drink.
"Well, never mind, I think I know what I did wrong--"
"Here," Crowley says desperately, grabbing a long, thin wedge of cheese. "Try this, the little sign on the table said it was from Savoie--"
Aziraphale shakes his head, reaching for another olive, instead.
"I just want to try one more time--"
The next thing he knows, the piece of cheese is being shoved into his mouth. Well, not quite shoved. Even with his brows arched in pure exasperation, Crowley is gentle. He catches Aziraphale's chin with his free hand and nudges the narrow end of the wedge against Aziraphale's lips. Aziraphale parts them automatically, and Crowley feeds him the cheese bite by bite with a care and attention that is rather overwhelming. In a not... unpleasant way. The exasperated look has melted into one of intense concentration and something that Aziraphale would never dare call fondness (not where Crowley can hear, at least). Crowley's fingertips are warm and firm on Aziraphale's jaw, not gripping too hard, not letting Aziraphale go, either.
Aziraphale realises that it is suddenly rather hotter in here than he remembers. That must be why he can feel a flush rising to his cheeks, and why there's a slight sheen of sweat breaking out on Crowley's skin. Crowley abruptly pulls away, casually reaching for his wine glass and then not-so-casually taking a rather large gulp from it as Aziraphale finishes his mouthful of cheese. His eyes are drawn to Crowley's throat and the way it moves as he swallows.
Yes, someone should definitely open a window or two in here. Aziraphale would do it, but honestly, the cheese is very good, and he'd much rather help himself to another piece of it, this time alternating bites with sips of the heavy red: an interesting pairing, not quite right for either cheese or wine, but pleasant in its dissonance.
Someone in the crowd laughs. It is definitely a laugh that is being directed at someone, not with them. Crowley winces.
"You wouldn't believe some of the pick-up lines they're trotting out," he says.
"Yeah, you know, like..." Crowley waggles his eyebrows suggestively as he looks Aziraphale up and down. "If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?"
Aziraphale gapes at him.
"Well, of course! I should think anyone would hold it against you, if you just walked up and said something like that!"
Crowley beams like Aziraphale just gave him a present wrapped up in a little bow, sets his wine down, and comes at Aziraphale with his arms out like he's about to embrace him. Aziraphale steps back in alarm, shooting a glance towards the rest of the room. Stupid wager or no stupid wager, it would be too reckless to be seen--
But Crowley is laughing at him.
"What? You said you'd hold it against me, didn't you? That beautiful body?"
Just for a moment, Aziraphale legitimately considers throwing his drink in Crowley's face. It would be an awful waste of lovely wine, though.
"Crowley that's terrible."
"I know! That's the point!"
"The point of what? Is it some kind of social warning system? Like black and yellow stripes or a very nasty taste?"
Crowley's still sniggering to himself as he retrieves his wine.
"Nah, it's like, it's supposed to be so bad it's funny, supposed to make someone laugh, give you a chance to start a conversation."
Aziraphale considers this.
"But it isn't," he says. "It's so bad it's just... bad."
"Right, and that's my point, that's the quality of seduction we're talking here." Crowley gestures to the room at large. "Amateurs."
"You literally just--"
"I was doing it ironically, angel. Totally different."
"You have a very strange definition of irony," Aziraphale mutters into his glass.
Crowley peers over his sunglasses and grins.
"Want me to run a few more past you?"
"No, thank you, I'm quite content retaining my ignorance on the subject--"
Crowley actually lifts the sunglasses, leaning in with a smirk, studying Aziraphale like he's a work of art.
"Are you an angel?" he drawls. Despite how ridiculous he's being, there's something about the intensity of his gaze that brings that pesky blush back to Aziraphale's cheeks. He loves seeing Crowley's eyes without the glasses. He loves being the centre of his attention.
"'Cos you're the answer to my prayers," Crowley finishes softly.
It shouldn't hit Aziraphale in the solar plexus and snatch his breath away. It's so dreadfully, painfully cheesy, and Aziraphale has never even thought the word 'cheesy' before tonight. And yet.
"Demons don't pray," Crowley murmurs, slumped over the balcony rail, bent almost double in weariness. Aziraphale's half-expecting him to lose his balance and tumble into the street below, is hovering with a hand just behind his back to grab him if necessary. His dark glasses are somewhere under the rubble; the fire across the river dances in his eyes, and Aziraphale can't stop watching it, can't stop looking at the soot smudge on his jaw and the spreading bruise on his temple. Aziraphale's arms still ache from dragging him to safety; his heart aches with something else.
"I never imagined otherwise."
"Right. Right." Crowley takes a deep breath and immediately coughs, lungs still bitter with smoke. "But. But if we did. If I did. If I..."
He trails off. Aziraphale waits for him to finish the thought. He doesn't. Later, he falls asleep on Aziraphale's never-used bed, too exhausted even to take off his shoes. Aziraphale does it for him: quietly, carefully, reverently.
London burns for three more days.
Crowley isn't even slightly expecting that one to land, he's already got the smart remark lined up to follow, except it dies on his tongue with Aziraphale looking at him like that. Eyes suddenly soft, sad, unbearably tender; lips parting, just for a second; a hand fluttering briefly in Crowley's direction as if reaching for him. It's so unexpected it makes his stomach do a somersault and his heartbeat roar in his ears. He should, he thinks distantly, press the advantage, reach out, touch Aziraphale, say something to throw him even further off balance, make him forget himself even more...
Instead, he looks away, focusing intently and deliberately on the crowd, scrambling to remember what he was going to say.
"Surprising number of pick-up lines involve angels," he mutters after a moment. "Humans are weird."
He hears Aziraphale take a breath, the tiniest bit shaky, and then reach for the wine bottle to top up his glass.
"I think we've known that since the Garden, haven't we? Eve and her rock collection."
Crowley snorts a laugh, finding his balance again.
"She'd dive to the bottom of the pool and bring them up." He remembers her hair plastered across her face, her grin of triumph. "They'd be so shiny and beautiful while they were still wet. Like pearls. She didn't even know what a pearl was, back then. No oysters in Eden."
"And then they'd dry out and just be ordinary pebbles, no different from the ones in the soil."
"But she kept them anyway."
"Yes. I always meant to-- oh no."
Crowley tenses, catapulted into high alert by the alarm in Aziraphale's voice. He looks where Aziraphale is looking, and sees two angels approaching. Wariness prickles down his spine.
"Hadraniel," Aziraphale says with forced good cheer, "Kushiel. Enjoying the evening?"
"Aziraphale," says the taller of the two, whom Crowley tentatively recognises as Hadraniel. "Is this fellow bothering you?"
He doesn't bother to hide his look of distaste. Kushiel is eyeing Crowley like she's considering a bit of off-the-books smiting. Crowley decides the best defence is a good offence.
"Oh yeah," he says, leering at Hadraniel despite the urge to hiss instead. "I'm bothering him. Care to join us? I've got a lot of bothering to go around. Bother you all night, if you like."
Hadraniel blinks, taken aback, while Kushiel rolls her eyes.
"Not another one," she mutters in disgust. "What's wrong with them all?"
"Uh? Hello? Demon?" Crowley gestures airily at himself. "Where do you want me to start?"
Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Aziraphale clutching his wine glass tightly and trying not to smile.
"Yes, but all this, this..." Hadraniel casts a glance back at the crowd. "All this salacious behaviour, I mean, really."
"I wouldn't exactly call it salacious." Aziraphale chimes in. He darts a single glance at Crowley before continuing serenely, "Pathetic, perhaps."
Crowley acts offended. Well. Mostly acts.
"Oh, not you, of course," Aziraphale replies with just the right touch of hurried condescension. "You're very, er, interesting. For a demon."
Kushiel sniggers. Crowley briefly considers outrage, but decides feigning stupidity is the safest course of action. He beams at Aziraphale.
"Well, thanks. Hey, did I tell you I'm thinking about rearranging the alphabet?"
"You are?" Aziraphale says with palpable dread.
"I thought it was about time to put U and I together."
Kushiel gives an involuntary snort of horrified laughter while Hadraniel seems to be struggling to understand the joke. Aziraphale gives Crowley a look that normally accompanies awkward questions about dog-eared books.
"And you," Crowley continues, turning back to Hadraniel. He's not sure he dares hit on Kushiel; she looks like she might throw knives rather than drinks. "You strike me as someone who likes his men - well, man-shaped beings - like he likes his coffee--"
"What's coffee?" Hadraniel hisses at Kushiel.
"--hot and ready to go," Crowley finishes, sidling up to Hadraniel and making a half-hearted attempt to grope his backside. He's both unsurprised and slightly relieved when Kushiel grabs his wrist and twists. "Ow, hey, that hurts!"
"This is a nightmare," Kushiel mutters, releasing Crowley as Hadraniel backs away hurriedly. "Do you think they'd notice if we went home early?"
Hadraniel looks ready to agree, but Aziraphale says primly, "Now, Kushiel, we can't let the side down, can we? Perhaps you should get yourselves some more of the punch. I rather think I've got things under control here."
Hadraniel needs no further excuse.
"Good idea, yes, the punch. We should try the punch. Michael was very insistent. Coming, Kushiel?"
Kushiel eyes Aziraphale, then Crowley, and Crowley can see her thinking, didn't know Aziraphale had it in him to string one of them along. She smirks, gives Aziraphale a little nod of acknowledgement, and follows Hadraniel back into the crowd.
Aziraphale barely manages to wait until they're out of sight before exclaiming, "Really, Crowley?"
"Worked, didn't it?"
"Have you no dignity?"
Crowley grabs an olive and pops it into his mouth, taking care to pull it off the cocktail stick with his tongue rather than his teeth.
"What's that, some kind of sexually transmitted--"
"Oh, you are impossible!"
Crowley allows himself a good, long, unrestrained cackle. There is nothing in the world so entertaining as winding up Aziraphale, not even making vending machines get stuck and watching humans try to get their arms up inside the slot. Aziraphale huffs and grabs the wine bottle to pour the last of it into his glass. If they were human, they'd be fairly well plastered by now, but their celestial (or infernal) constitutions being what they are, Crowley's still at the comfortably tipsy stage.
"Jealous, angel?" he asks, sidling up to Aziraphale and resting his chin on his shoulder. "Feeling left out?"
This is the part where Aziraphale usually takes a neat step forward or sideways, often in such a way as to intentionally make Crowley lose his balance. Aziraphale doesn't move. Crowley finds himself leaning into his back, their faces very close together, his eyes drawn magnetically to Aziraphale's lips and the way he bites the bottom one very slightly before raising his glass and sipping like he thinks it will hide the colour rising in his face. Crowley can feel his own warm breath hitting Aziraphale's cheek and rebounding back onto his mouth, and it makes his lips tingle, suddenly urgent with the thought that if Aziraphale just turns his head a little--
"Hadraniel's not really my type," Aziraphale replies calmly. "You're welcome to him."
He finally takes that step forward, and Crowley very nearly faceplants into the ground, only catching himself at the last second with a hand on the little table, which wobbles dangerously. Aziraphale turns back, a quick flash of guilt on his face, and takes his elbow to steady him. Crowley expresses his gratitude with a glare, and reaches for the corkscrew to open the next bottle of wine. Aziraphale's hand lingers on his elbow for slightly too long before he lets it drop back to his side.
"I do wish the music were a little more classical." Aziraphale tilts his head, listening with distaste to what Crowley is pretty sure is something by Black Sabbath. "Or at least consistent," he adds, as crashing metal suddenly switches to upbeat guitar chords.
"Want me to have a word with the DJ?"
"Better not. If Beelzebub hasn't got through to Gabriel by now, we're stuck with it."
"Oh, so that's what that was all about." Crowley peers in the direction where he last saw them arguing. "Surprised she hasn't done something horrible to him already, then. She's got pretty good taste in music, for someone with a giant fly on their head."
"A reference pool of one is hardly basis for comparison, my dear."
Aziraphale holds out his glass. Crowley fills it for him, and then tries - or, well, doesn't try all that hard, if he's honest - not to watch him savour the first sip, tongue darting out to catch a drop that lingers on his lips, eyes briefly closing in pleasure. It's based on a vintage Crowley tried a few years ago in a trendy London pub, and for once the tasting notes were accurate: it does have rich, chocolate overtones, and he's been looking for an excuse to get Aziraphale to try it ever since.
It occurs to him suddenly that if he is ever, ever going to get to taste that wine in Aziraphale's mouth, this is the only chance he'll have, and all of a sudden this game of theirs doesn't feel quite so much like good fun. Not when the thought of losing is becoming increasingly unbearable. Not when he's spent nearly two thousand years not seducing Aziraphale and has finally found an excuse to go ahead. Not when Aziraphale's eyes flutter open and he glances at Crowley and there's that heat in them, just for a second, before he hastily looks away, like he always does, even when he's drunk, even when they're alone in the bookshop and no-one in Heaven or Hell could possibly know if one of them just leaned in...
Plenty of people would know if Crowley kissed him here, and yet, bizarrely, for this one night, perhaps no-one would care.
Aziraphale's attention has become focused on something on the other side of the room, a perturbed expression settling on his face.
"What are those demons doing over there?"
"Dancing," he says, after a moment of considering the possibility that the correct answer is writhing in agony.
"I'd hardly call that dancing!"
"Too modern for you? Not enough bowing?"
"Not enough rhythm, Crowley! They're just... flailing."
"Nothing wrong with getting a bit jiggy," Crowley says, demonstrating with a sinuous wriggle and jerk of his shoulders.
"Did you really just say--"
"Anyway, it's not like you've ever tried it either way, so you're in no position to criticise."
Aziraphale's expression does something... interesting. Something that's half smug and half apprehensive.
"As a matter of fact, I have tried it. I was quite the dancer, for a time."
Crowley chokes on his wine.
"I used to be highly sought-after as a partner. It was rather exhilarating."
Crowley's not sure if he can really unhinge his jaw when he's not in snake form, but it certainly feels like the thing is dragging on the ground right now.
"When?" he demands.
"Oh, a while back now, I suppose--"
"Why didn't I know about this?"
"You were asleep," Aziraphale says reproachfully.
Crowley winces. Oh, the bloody nineteenth century, then. Aziraphale's never quite forgiven him for that overlong nap. In Crowley's defence, he really thought Aziraphale was angry enough about the holy water not to care. And he really, really needed not to think about that fact for a few decades. He gulps down some more wine.
"It was delightful," Aziraphale says dreamily. "Once you've mastered the steps, it comes quite naturally, and there's nothing half so enchanting as a young man in a tailcoat spinning around to meet you--"
Crowley chokes again, this time badly enough that he briefly feels wine burning at the back of his nose. His eyes water. He fully intends to interrogate Aziraphale until he gets to the bottom of every single implication of that statement, but somehow, when he catches his breath and gets his tongue to work, what comes out is, "Want to have a go, then?"
"At dancing." Crowley sets down his glass and holds out his hand, trying to hide the fact that his heart has just accelerated like he's got his foot to the floor on a stretch of open road. "Come on."
Aziraphale has gone redder than at any time so far this evening..
"This is hardly suitable music for a gavotte. And anyway, you don't know the steps."
"No-one gavottes anymore, angel. You just sort of... go with it. Make it up as you go along."
"Someone will see."
Since Aziraphale's clearly not going to take his hand, Crowley points into the crowd with it. Apparently the general intoxication has progressed to a level where some of the angels are starting to see the funny side of things. They aren't exactly dancing, because angels don't dance - or at least, he thought angels didn't dance, did Aziraphale really wait a hundred years for the perfect moment to drop that bombshell? - but a number of them are gamely swaying along to the music in company with the nearest flailing demon, which sort of counts. Crowley even sees one angel allow her hand to be taken by a demon who attempts to execute a twirl under it. The result is a small pileup and a lot of swearing, but points for effort.
"I suppose," Aziraphale says hesitantly. "This music, though--"
Crowley gives up and decides he is drunk enough to just demonstrate. At least the song has a beat, and he's always rather liked that bit about angel eyes. He grooves his way around Aziraphale in a half circle, pulling out all the stops with regards to hip-swaying and the sort of sinuous upper body movements that are supposed to get people all hot and bothered under the collar.
Aziraphale turns slowly on the spot, watching him with what Crowley initially hopes is interest, but which he very quickly has to acknowledge is far closer to fascinated horror.
"Look, just try it, all right? Just-- just wiggle a bit, come on. If Sandalphon can manage it--"
Crowley pauses in his gyrations to indicate where the angel in question is sort of shifting from foot to foot in vague time with the music. As Aziraphale turns to look, Crowley sidles up to him and snatches his wine glass away, stashing it safely on the table and offering his hand again.
Aziraphale sighs heavily and accepts it with all the enthusiasm of a condemned man. Crowley will take what he can get.
"Just please stop doing that... that thing you were doing," Aziraphale says as Crowley coaxes him out to where there's a bit more space.
"The... the undulating," Aziraphale says, waving his free hand vaguely at Crowley's hips. "I kept thinking your trousers were going to fall down."
"Oh, angel," Crowley purrs, leaning in close and grinning lasciviously. "Only in your dreams."
"I'm not drunk enough for this," Aziraphale mutters.
"We can do something about that."
"I will never be drunk enough for this." Aziraphale hasn't actually tried to remove his hand from Crowley's, and that fact is slowly burning its way into the centre of Crowley's brain. "What's wrong with a nice waltz or something?"
"You want to try and waltz to ABBA, be my guest--" Crowley begins, but of course, at that exact moment the song transitions awkwardly into something else. Something slower, softer, and terribly familiar.
"This sounds a little more like it," he says, beginning to move his feet cautiously. "Wrong time signature for a proper waltz, but I suppose one could use a step or two and improvise--"
Crowley finds himself being unexpectedly steered by their still-linked hands, and the excuse he was about to make - actually let's sit this one out, let me tell you about my trip to Switzerland - dies unspoken, because all at once Aziraphale is wearing that look of intense concentration that completely undoes Crowley whenever it's directed at a book or a pastry or a crossword puzzle. Having it directed at him is... it's quite... something.
"Look," Aziraphale is saying, nodding towards their feet, "the steps are simple, and you only have to keep repeating them. Just follow my lead."
And with that, as casually as if they do it all the time, he puts his free hand on Crowley's waist.
Crowley isn't sure when things went so horribly wrong, how he's somehow gone from baiting Aziraphale into a bit of disco dancing, to clutching at Aziraphale's hand and trying very hard not to mess up the steps. Aziraphale hums approvingly as he starts to get the hang of it, and leads him in a careful turn, and Crowley is trying so hard not to tune in to the music, but...
... when I first saw you, I already knew...
It's not like him to listen to this sort of fluff, but he's heard it on the radio a few times and even though it's sappier than a maple tree, he's found himself humming along, caught himself turning up the volume...
... something I thought I'd never find...
And Aziraphale is dancing with him and they must look so ridiculous, shuffling around doing the same three steps over and over to the stupidest cheesiest song, and Crowley is blushing in a way that is utterly unbecoming of a demon and he can't stop and he never wants it to end...
... angel of mine...
"Oh," says Aziraphale softly, "you're actually rather good at this."
"You don't have to sound so surprised," Crowley mumbles, trying to hide the shakiness in his voice, in his hands, in his soul, assuming he even has one of those these days. He never used to think so, but if he doesn't, what is it that Aziraphale has such complete possession of? "So are you."
"It's easier with the right partner, it seems," Aziraphale murmurs, and Crowley stumbles slightly, missing a step for the first time.
"No, no, my fault--"
He's caught himself with a hand on Aziraphale's shoulder, and Aziraphale's still got one hand on his waist, and their other hands are still clasped, except at some point Aziraphale has intertwined his fingers with Crowley's and he'd probably say it's for stability or something but his grip is soft and certain and tight, like Aziraphale intends to keep him and never let him go. Aziraphale is very close and his face is tilted up the slightest amount and if Crowley wasn't wearing his sunglasses he's pretty sure Aziraphale would be able to read him like a book, and he's not even sure he cares.
Aziraphale takes an unsteady breath and Crowley swallows hard and he almost, almost thinks Aziraphale is about to sway forward and close his eyes--
The closing strains of the song are rudely interrupted by a rapid drumbeat and loud, unrepentant fiddle-playing in a tempo so fast it's almost tripping over itself. They jump half out of their skins and Aziraphale lets go of Crowley in a rush and Crowley seriously considers finding Gabriel and forcing him to listen to nothing but the Spice Girls on a loop for the rest of the evening. Mind you, the wanker would probably enjoy that, somehow.
"What on Earth--"
"Yeah, we're not dancing to this, angel," Crowley says quickly, nudging Aziraphale's arm to guide him back to their spot by the wall, not quite daring to take his hand again. Aziraphale is listening to the lyrics with a frown.
"But why would the Devil go to Georgia of all places?"
"Best not to think about it too hard."
"Does he even play the violin?"
"Not that I've ever heard. Good singing voice, though."
Aziraphale starts to ask the obvious question, then decides he's not sure he wants to know why Crowley has had occasion to hear Lucifer burst into song. Crowley's busy pouring more wine with the single-minded intensity of someone who needs a moment to catch his breath, and since Aziraphale definitely needs one of those himself, he obligingly lets the conversation fall into a lull, although he does keep wondering privately about the practicality of a solid gold violin. Wouldn't it be rather heavy on the shoulder? And what about the strings?
It's better than thinking about his racing heart and his too-fast breathing and the way Crowley's hands are trembling very faintly and he spills a couple of perfect ruby drops onto the half-empty plate of hors d'oeuvres. Or about what it might be like to put some real music on his gramophone in the shop, a proper waltz, and guide Crowley through it step by step, drawing him in closer until they're hip to hip and chest to chest...
Crowley hands him a fresh glass of wine. Aziraphale drinks half of it before he can stop himself. Crowley raises an eyebrow, and suddenly the grin is back, the confidence, the teasing tone.
"You all right there, angel? Bit hot and bothered?"
"Well, it is dreadfully hot in here," Aziraphale complains, refusing to meet Crowley's gaze.
"Is it? Hadn't noticed. Though now that you mention it..."
He reaches up and tugs on his bow tie, deftly loosening the knot and pulling the loops free with slow deliberation. He coils the thing up and shoves it in his jacket pocket, then casually undoes the first two buttons on his shirt. After a moment of contemplation, he goes back and also unfastens the third, and Aziraphale regains enough self-possession to roll his eyes.
"Why don't you just take the whole thing off, while you're at it?"
"Oh, would you like that?" Crowley immediately starts to remove his jacket. "I certainly can--"
"No, Crowley, don't, for heaven's sake, it was a joke--"
Crowley smirks, finishes taking off the jacket, and drapes it over the nearest chair. He doesn't make any move towards the rest of his shirt buttons, instead leaning on the wall and sipping his wine as his gaze drifts over the rest of the room. Aziraphale thinks about telling him to put the jacket back on, but it is hot in here, and that shirt does cling so very nicely to his chest and arms, not to mention what those trousers are doing for his legs now Aziraphale can see the full line of them...
He is hit by the dizzying realisation that he does not care quite as much as he thought he did about getting Crowley to finally read Pride and Prejudice.
He is drunk enough to feel the surge of it, lifting him up like an ocean swell, a buoyancy that makes everything seem so much easier. He takes another slow sip of his wine, watches Crowley watching the crowd. Traces the line of Crowley's collarbone with his eyes. Thinks about putting his mouth there. Actually thinks it, instead of immediately pushing the image away and burying it deep like he has for two thousand years. One night in Rome, that was all it took. One night here, that's all they have. Might be all they'll ever have.
He feels his eyes grow damp even as a heat settles in his stomach, even as he makes up his mind. Crowley turns to look at him then, and the meeting of their eyes is almost a sound, like a clash of crystal or a clap of thunder. Crowley jerks as if he's touched a live wire, lips parting just a little, hand suddenly gripping his wineglass like he's trying to crush it.
Aziraphale takes a deep breath.
"If a serpent like you is overheating, it must be hot. Find a window to open, would you?"
Well, he's still going to make Crowley work for it. He sips his wine and smiles sweetly at the outraged expression he's on the receiving end of.
"Why don't you find a bloody window--"
Aziraphale very calmly puts down his wine and begins to unbutton his jacket. Crowley's eyes go wide and round, following his fingers. Aziraphale removes the jacket and hangs it carefully on the same chair as Crowley's. He does not loosen his bow tie, unbutton his collar, or remove his waistcoat, because he has standards, and also because he thinks Crowley might spontaneously combust if he did. Instead, he helps himself to another olive and takes the time to really savour its salty, oily taste and the dense, meaty texture of it on his tongue.
"Would you, my dear?" he repeats, and Crowley makes a noise composed almost entirely of vowels, and storms off in the direction of the heavy curtains along one side of the room.
Aziraphale watches him go, wondering for the thousandth time whether Crowley really understands how hips are supposed to work, if he realises they're not supposed to be in as many places as his are when he walks. It's an old jibe, and any real criticism it might once have held has long, long given way to a deep and desperate affection. If Crowley ever stopped moving like he's in the middle of a complicated fall down a long flight of steps, Aziraphale would feel bereft.
As it is, it takes far less time than it should for Aziraphale to start to regret sending Crowley away. The party is in full swing now, the earlier awkwardness dissolved in vast quantities of alcohol, angels and demons so intermingled it's hard to tell, from a distance, which are which. Absolutely no-one is paying attention to him, and it ought to be a relief - it is a relief - but it also hits him powerfully that here he is, once again, on the edge of it all, too inconsequential for anyone to care about. It's not as if he wants to be a big name in Heaven or have to deal with endless angelic social interactions, but it would be nice if someone, sometimes, would approach him out of a genuine desire for his company...
He thinks of Crowley slithering up to him in the Garden, of the smell of the first rain and the sound of his voice, and that eternal ache eases, as it always does. In his peripheral vision he catches a figure approaching with a swaying walk and long legs, and turns to smile before he can stop himself.
It's not Crowley. Aziraphale's smile freezes. The demon saunters up to him with great deliberation. There are scales under her jaw, curving around her neck, and down across her chest, which Aziraphale can see quite a lot of, because she's wearing a clingy, sparkly tube top, along with rugged combat trousers and five-inch ruby red stiletto heels. Aziraphale legitimately cannot tell if this is the usual demonic fashion trainwreck, or if that's what the humans are actually wearing these days. Her eyes are as reptilian as Crowley's, a bewitching emerald green from corner to corner with no hint of white. Her ink-black hair falls to her waist in thick, serpentine coils, and for a moment Aziraphale, frozen in panic, worries she might have turned him to stone.
"Hello," she purrs, hips swinging like a pendulum, forked tongue flicking out to wet her lips. "What are you doing over here all by yourself, you ssssweet thing?"
"Ah, er-- I mean-- that is-- I don't believe I've had the pleasure--"
"Oh, you most certainly have not," she replies, still moving towards him, showing no signs of stopping at a reasonable distance. She grins, and she has not bothered with a full set of human teeth, only the long, sharp fangs of a serpent. "I'm Lamia."
She moves in so close Aziraphale can count the tiny scales at her temples. He takes a step back. It's one thing for Crowley to insinuate himself into Aziraphale's personal space, but really. Is there something about him that's particularly appealing to snakes? Perhaps he looks like he'd make a good pillow. Or a satisfying meal.
Lamia does not take the hint. Her hand - bedecked with nails so long they can only properly be called talons, and painted a poisonous green - comes to rest on Aziraphale's chest, toying with his bow tie.
"You're wearing too many clothes," she tells him, and Aziraphale hurriedly backs away again, only to feel his shoulders hit the wall.
"I'm actually, I'm quite all right, thank you, perfectly fine with my sartorial choices this evening."
He can feel how red he's gone from sheer mortification. Crowley is right: the other demons are even less subtle than he is. Somehow. Does this work on mortals? Aziraphale recalls certain nights in dimly lit taverns through the ages, and thinks that, depressingly, it probably does. On some of them, anyway.
Lamia has, entirely predictably, swept in for the kill and is now crushed up against his front, talons toying with his collar. Aziraphale looks around desperately for Crowley.
"Are you going to tell me your name before we do this, angel?"
It grates on him like nails on a chalkboard, to have some other demon - some other person - any other person - call him that. He grasps her shoulders and attempts to push her away. Much like a determined cat, she digs her claws in and refuses to be shifted, grinning with a wicked delight at his discomfort.
"Oh, for heaven's sake-- do let go of me, I am not interested--"
"But you're all alone," she says, smiling at the spiteful truth of it, knowing she's putting in the knife. "You're the only one standing here all by himself. Don't you want--"
"Oi, Lamia," comes a very familiar and pleasingly outraged voice. Aziraphale's knees almost give way in relief. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"
Lamia throws a contemptuous look over her shoulder at Crowley, who is glowering at her with a fury that Aziraphale hasn't seen since that unfortunate misunderstanding over Kit Marlowe.
"Pissss off, Crowley," Lamia hisses. "Get your own angel."
For all that Aziraphale is considering the benefits of spontaneous discorporation as a life choice, he has to bite his lip to keep from laughing out loud. Crowley's face, oh, the sheer multitude of things it is trying to express simultaneously, all the way from disbelief to murderous rage to an almost-painful, possessive longing.
Aziraphale takes hold of Lamia's hands quite firmly, removes them from his shirt, and pushes her to arm's length. Then he darts sideways and puts several steps between the two of them.
"Yes, well, that's quite enough of that, thank you," he says. "I don't know what you consider polite conversation in Hell, young lady, but where I come from it involves considerably less physical contact."
She stares at him for a moment, and he thinks he sees her lips form the baffled words, young lady? Crowley seizes the initiative, and also Lamia's elbow, dragging her a few more steps away so he can hiss in her ear. He makes it look like he doesn't want Aziraphale to hear, but he doesn't quite lower his voice all the way.
"I've been working on this one all night. Hands off."
"Doesn't look like you're getting anywhere," Lamia retorts, flicking a narrow-eyed gaze towards Aziraphale.
"He took his jacket off!"
"If I'd been working on him all night, he'd have taken off a lot more than that--"
"Trust me, that's progress with this one!"
"Trust you, Crowley?" Lamia smirks. "Never. But how about a little friendly competition? We'll both try it, and see who comes out on top."
A horrible vision of his immediate future fills Aziraphale's head, but Crowley just stares at her, and then starts to laugh.
"Give it up, Lamia. You know I always win. Besides, he looks about ready to run for the hills if you take even one step closer."
Lamia shoots Aziraphale another assessing glance. Aziraphale does his best to look like he can't hear them, and also like he's about to bolt. The second part doesn't take much effort, if he's honest.
"Ugh, angels." Lamia shakes her head in frustration and pulls her elbow free from Crowley's grip. "So uptight."
"You're telling me."
"Fine, fine, enjoy the world's slowest striptease, maybe in another hundred years you'll get to see his cock." Aziraphale barely manages to hide a choked noise, turning quickly to grab his wine glass and hide his face. "I'm off to find one that's had some of that punch."
"Try Kushiel, she seems up for it," Crowley says. Aziraphale chokes again and gulps down half his wine in desperation. "Grab her arse, pretty sure she's into that."
"Who isn't?" Lamia says sweetly, and from the startled yelp Crowley makes, Aziraphale suspects she has just demonstrated her point. "Catch you later."
Aziraphale doesn't dare look at Crowley until the sound of those stiletto heels has clicked its way out of earshot.
"Well," he says finally.
"You okay, angel?" Crowley asks, sidling up close to him with a frown. "Lamia's idea of seduction's a bit, uh, direct..."
"I'd noticed." Aziraphale brushes his shirt front with his fingertips, using just a touch of power to ensure the traces of heady perfume vanish completely. "No harm done, however. Except to my dignity."
"Are you sure?" There's a note of real worry in Crowley's voice, a furrow in his brow that won't go away. "If she did anything-- I mean if she-- if you were uncomfortable--"
Aziraphale's heart does something complicated and painful and unfathomably soft.
"Oh, my dear," he says, "no more uncomfortable than I was with Hadraniel's questions. If I'd needed to, I would have extracted myself sooner. I just preferred not to draw undue attention - and besides, I knew you'd be back soon."
Crowley makes an exasperated noise, but that frown eases away to be replaced by affectionate teasing.
"You do love it, don't you? Playing the damsel in distress."
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
Crowley smirks. Aziraphale belatedly realises that he's got a number of small objects tucked under his arm, which he now begins to unload onto the side table.
"You like it when I rescue you."
Aziraphale looks fixedly at the table rather than answering. His blush probably speaks for itself anyway. Crowley has built a neat pyramid of pots of chocolate mousse; he sets the last one in place and offers Aziraphale a spoon.
"Crowley, did you steal the entire supply of those things?"
"It's not stealing," Crowley protests. "They're here for us to enjoy, and no-one else is going to enjoy them as much as you will. Anyway, I only took six, there's loads more."
He sketches a tiny, mocking bow. Aziraphale isn't about to turn down chocolate anything, even if these are as average as the rest of the catering. He picks up the pot Crowley just placed, regretting slightly that he's spoiling the neat display, peels back the plastic film on top, and dips the spoon into the gooey contents.
"Always?" he asks, just before he pops it into his mouth.
Crowley gives him a blank look that is immediately overtaken by an intense focus on Aziraphale's mouth as he sucks the mousse off the spoon. It's better than he was expecting, a lovely rich chocolate with just enough sweetness and just enough density. He makes sure he gets all of it before he slides the spoon out of his mouth and back into the pot for another go-round.
"What?" Crowley says distractedly.
"You said you always win." Aziraphale scoops up some more mousse, pauses to raise an eyebrow at Crowley. "You and, ah, Lamia... you do that often, do you? Competitive seduction?"
Crowley flushes and stutters and Aziraphale isn't sure whether it's from the question or because this time he's decided to lick the chocolate goo off the spoon without putting it entirely in his mouth. Either's fine, really.
"Not often," Crowley manages, dragging his eyes away from Aziraphale and fumbling for the wine like a drowning man. "Not for ages, either. She normally just, y'know, does what she does, wham, bam, thank you sir or ma'am, and I don't normally, well--"
He pauses to gulp some wine and Aziraphale smiles at his lack of composure.
"You don't? I thought you were, what was it, great at seducing people?"
"I am!" Crowley protests, finally getting enough of a hold of himself to glare at Aziraphale. "Very seductive, me. Hardly even have to try. Especially when she's picked some poor sod with self-respect. They tend to react like you did. Ever so relieved when I buy them a drink and don't immediately try to stick my tongue down their throat."
"So when you say you always win, what you mean is you pick your battles so you already have an advantage."
"You've met me, haven't you?" Crowley replies with a grin.
He grabs one of the mousses and peels back the lid. Aziraphale just has time to notice that he doesn't have a spoon, before Crowley locks eyes with him, brings the mousse to his mouth, and flicks out his tongue to start licking the chocolate directly from the pot.
"Crowley," Aziraphale protests. "That's uncouth."
"What, you're the only one who gets to wave your tongue around provocatively?"
Crowely's voice is slightly muffled by the fact that he's plunged said tongue as far into the pot as it will go and is swirling it around in a manner that is probably supposed to be suggestive.
"Oh, I beg to differ, angel. The way you eat--"
"I meant you, dear boy. You put me in mind of a washing machine."
Crowley stops doing whatever he thinks he's doing to the mousse, frowns sulkily at Aziraphale, and drops the mostly-empty pot on the table. Aziraphale bites his lip to keep from laughing, but he can't contain his amusement enough to stop Crowley's frown becoming a glare.
"You, ah, have a spot of chocolate on your nose," Aziraphale tells him. "Well, a bit more than a spot, actually--"
Crowley goes cross-eyed trying to see the dark splodge right on the tip of his nose, which is far more endearing than it really has any right to be. Perhaps that's why Aziraphale, in a moment of madness, licks his own thumb and uses it to wipe away the chocolate from Crowley's face. He reaches for one of the napkins to clean his hand, but Crowley, after freezing at the touch, eyes wide, moves as suddenly as a striking snake, seizing hold of Aziraphale's wrist.
There's a certain inevitability to the way he then raises the captured hand to his mouth and wraps his lips around the chocolate-smeared thumb, but it still resets Aziraphale's brain like a bolt of lightning crackling from Crowley's mouth to the core of his body. The feeling of Crowley's tongue curling around the very tip of his thumb, warm and wet and wickedly dextrous, makes him suck in his breath, makes his eyelids flutter half-closed, makes his face do something, something that in turn makes Crowley's hand tighten on his wrist, makes his fingers tremble against Aziraphale's skin.
Crowley lets Aziraphale's thumb slide out of his mouth, and even through the sunglasses, Aziraphale can see how his eyes burn. A thumping urgency starts up somewhere in Aziraphale's chest and hammers through every secret corner of his body until he's all but shaking with it. Crowley tugs just a fraction so that Aziraphale takes a half step towards him, bends his head to place his lips against Aziraphale's palm, a touch so feather-light it's almost more a breath than a kiss. He shifts his grip, parting his fingers so he can move his mouth higher, press another kiss to Aziraphale's wrist, and Aziraphale hears himself make a noise, one he's never made before, something between a gasp and a moan, and he's not even sure he can explain why. It's not like the sensation on his skin is particularly overpowering, but the sight of Crowley like this, Crowley dipping his head to kiss his hand as if worshipping, not even trying to hide the way his own fingers are shaking...
"Crowley," Aziraphale whispers, and Crowley drops his hand like it suddenly burns him, the briefest flicker of anguish on his face.
"I'm sorry, I--"
"No," Aziraphale says desperately, closing the gap between them and taking hold of the front of Crowley's shirt. "I didn't mean-- I meant--"
After two thousand years of wanting, it should be easier or harder than it is to slide his hand up to Crowley's cheek, brush across it with his thumb, nestle his fingertips into the hair at his temple. To reach up with his other hand and twitch the sunglasses away, dropping them on the table. To exert the slightest pressure, drawing him in, drawing him down, and to kiss him, right there where anyone can see, angels or demons or God Herself.
Crowley freezes at first, his fingertips ghosting across Aziraphale's hip, his back ramrod straight, but then just as Aziraphale starts to think he must be doing it wrong, and starts to pull away, he feels Crowley's hands clenching tight in the back of his waistcoat, Crowley's mouth opening to his like a silent cry of welcome and longing. Aziraphale is unprepared for the way it feels then, the rush of emotion so potent it's almost painful, the way the ache that has dwelt in his bones for so long compresses and contracts into a pounding pressure in his chest.
He's also unprepared for how tightly Crowley's arms wrap around him, for how desperately Crowley kisses him, and for the tiny, frantic sound he finds himself making, but unprepared is not the same as unappreciative. He lets his fingertips plunge deeper into Crowley's gorgeous hair, using the new grip to tilt his head gently, to begin exploring his mouth with wondering, delighted licks of an eager tongue.
It's Crowley who pulls away first, Aziraphale so desperation-drunk he tries to follow Crowley's mouth with his automatically, until Crowley takes a deep breath and whispers, "Angel, you don't-- please don't--"
It's not what Aziraphale was expecting, and nor is this vulnerability and hesitation, so far from the confident way Crowley spoke of seduction earlier in the evening. His hand is still in Crowley's hair; he can't bring himself to draw it back, not yet, not when he can feel the softness of it and the warmth of Crowley under it and the hammering of his pulse at the temple and jaw.
"You don't want--?" Aziraphale manages, almost choking on his own dismay.
Crowley groans and pulls him in close again, this time dropping his face to Aziraphale's shoulder.
"Of course I do," Crowley mumbles into his shirt. "But not-- not just, not for this stupid bet, not--"
Aziraphale runs his fingers through Crowley's hair, breathes in the scent of him, and tries not to laugh, because even with the edge of wild desperation he knows would be in the sound, he doesn't want Crowley to misinterpret.
"Dearest," he says, as he's wanted to for so, so long, and never dared, and Crowley shivers against him and clutches him tighter, like maybe he's wanted to hear it for just as long. "Did you ever find that window?"
Crowley lifts his head abruptly to stare at Aziraphale with intense vexation.
"Are you serious--"
"Or a door, perhaps?" Aziraphale goes on, holding his gaze. "One that leads outside?"
Crowley's beautiful eyes widen and he's still so close, oh, it would be so easy to just lean in again... but Crowley's on the same page now, and he loosens his hold on Aziraphale, steps back just a little.
"Yeah," he says, "I did find something like that, now you mention it."
"I think I could do with a little air," Aziraphale says, which isn't strictly speaking a lie, although mostly what he could do with is the air from Crowley's lungs, extracted one kiss at a time. "What do you say?"
"Sounds good," Crowley manages.
Aziraphale smiles and loops their arms together, then turns to retrieve his jacket. Crowley stops him with a little squeeze, and snaps his fingers. Both the jacket-laden chair and wine-burdened table vanish.
"It'll go wherever we end up."
As Crowley leads Aziraphale over to the particular section of heavy curtains that hides the fire exit, he feels like all eyes are on them, even though his sixth sense tells him no-one is looking their way. It feels impossible that they’re getting away with this, not just spending the evening in each other's company but leaving together. He's afraid that at any second the floor will give way beneath their feet, or a divine spotlight will fix on them, the music falling silent and the assembled crowd turning towards them to cast judgement.
They reach the curtain, and no-one has noticed. Crowley tugs it aside for Aziraphale, opens the locked door with a touch that also ensures it doesn't set off the alarm built into it. The curtain falls back into place behind them, the door swings shut, and no-one has noticed.
The grounds of the hotel are not particularly inspiring. There's a lot of neatly trimmed grass, an ornamental lake, and a rather scrawny stand of trees and shrubs in which a small pavillion with peeling paint is pretending to be picturesque. By unspoken agreement, they follow the gravel path in that direction. Aziraphale does not disengage his arm from Crowley's.
The pavillion is not as bad as it looks from a distance, and has the particular advantage that when they sit down side by side on the bench, they are shielded from the view of anyone coming from the hotel. Crowley supposes the mediocre foliage isn't a complete waste of space after all, though he makes sure to glare at the bushes and imply wordlessly that they could be doing a lot more with their lives than they currently are.
He snaps his fingers. The table reappears, as does the chair that holds their jackets. There are a lot of things Crowley wants to say and a lot of things he very much doesn't want to say, and his stomach is fluttering like he's accidentally swallowed a basket of butterflies, so he reaches for the last bottle of wine, aware of Aziraphale watching him. He takes his time peeling back the foil, turning the corkscrew the exact number of times it takes to pierce the cork without sending fragments into the wine, then extracts it with a slow, smooth movement. How many bottles of wine has he opened for Aziraphale over the centuries? Too many to count, he thinks, and before that flagons, wineskins, clay jars...
Aziraphale takes the wine Crowley passes him but doesn't drink immediately. He waits until Crowley has filled his own, then tilts the glass in invitation. Crowley clinks his glass softly against Aziraphale's. Neither of them speak a toast aloud. The one Crowley wants to make is more like a wish or, dare he say it, a prayer: let us have this.
"I don't want to get you into trouble," Crowley blurts out, apparently determined to sabotage his own hopes at every opportunity. "I'm covered, that's the whole point of the wager, but you--"
"You needn't worry about me," Aziraphale replies gently. "There's an understanding that these events are... out of their jurisdiction, as it were. That some things are more permissible than they would ordinarily be. So long as no-one suspects our, ah, long-term association... if anyone finds out about tonight, I can pass it off as a one-off indiscretion. Blame it on the punch."
"You haven't been near the punch," Crowley mutters, taking a big drink of wine to hide the way it makes him feel to be referred to as a one-off indiscretion. He knows Aziraphale's right, of course. It was the whole point... but it stirs up all those feelings that have been roiling in his stomach since Lamia so casually told him to get his own angel, and he wanted nothing more than to reply, that is my own angel, he's mine, he's mine and you can't have him. But saying that would have ruined everything, destroyed the carefully constructed deniability of it all, and somehow he bit his tongue until it bled, and found another way to move her along.
Aziraphale is looking at him, and suddenly he reaches out, takes Crowley's glass away, and puts them both on the table. The next thing Crowley knows, Aziraphale is in his lap, and he's being kissed again, and this isn't how he thought this was going to go down, inasmuch as he's ever dared to let himself think things would go down at all; he thought he'd be the one pressing Aziraphale onward, tempting him, urging him, but instead it's Crowley being pushed back against the wall of the pavillion, Crowley opening his mouth helplessly to Aziraphale's, Crowley shaking as he winds his fingers into Aziraphale's soft, familiar waistcoat and tries not to whimper from the sensory overload of suddenly getting what he's wanted for so long.
Aziraphale breaks the kiss without moving back more than half an inch, eyes half-open and looking into Crowley's like he can see the stars that have been bursting into bloom behind them.
"You know it's not really that," he whispers, as soft as if he thinks the Almighty is listening even now. "You know, don't you? My dear-- my dearest--"
Crowley's breath leaves him in a shaky rush and he moves his head a fraction, a tiny shake: I don't know, Aziraphale, I don't know for sure, I've guessed and hoped and wished and waited, but I've never known because neither of us dare say it...
And the trap of it, of course, is that neither of them is concerned so much for themselves as they are for each other: Crowley knows Heaven would not punish Aziraphale the way Hell would punish him, but if they recalled him from Earth and refused to let him return, it would still be a kind of torture. And Aziraphale has been terrified for centuries of what Hell would do to Crowley if they knew, has pulled back every time they reach for each other, looked away every time their gazes meet, held himself still when Crowley can see that all he wants is the same closeness that Crowley has craved for so long. Been too afraid to put anything into words that might betray them.
But for all his hesitation, when Aziraphale makes up his mind about something, he's like an avalanche triggered by a single stray word, relentless and unstoppable and overwhelming. He leans in, brushes his lips lightly over Crowley’s, and when he speaks, it's so quiet Crowley has to feel the words on his lips more than hear them.
"I've loved you so long I don't know when it started," Aziraphale breathes against him. "I've wanted you since Rome--"
Crowley half-laughs, a hot breath of self-mockery.
"Those were some oysters, weren't they?" he murmurs, and Aziraphale huffs a laugh right back at him, and the coiled fear that was holding Crowley back springs loose, and he finally crushes Aziraphale close the way he's always wanted to. "You know... you know I--"
"I know," says Aziraphale, who also knows there are some things a demon simply dare not say, even with no witnesses. "Would you kiss me again?"
Well, since he's asked so nicely... Crowley does.
For a long time they stay like that, and though Crowley thinks about undoing the buttons on Aziraphale's waistcoat, and Aziraphale's fingers play with the hem of Crowley's shirt, neither of them are in a hurry to move on. It's all transgressive, is the thing, given what they are, given how their world works. Crowley's dreamt for centuries of holding Aziraphale's hand, and known it's as far out of his reach as anything involving less clothing. Kissing him is ecstatic in its simplicity and its intimacy, the taste of him and the smell of him and the soft noises he makes and the way he pants against Crowley's mouth whenever they pause for air.
Crowley remembers an earlier thought, whispers it to Aziraphale, who obligingly leans over and grabs one of the wineglasses. They share it, passing it back and forth like a loving cup, and then when Crowley kisses him again, there's the taste of the heavy, dark wine in his mouth, and it's as perfect as he knew it would be. He winds his tongue around Aziraphale's, seeking out every last fleck of flavour, and suddenly Aziraphale's hands are fisting in his shirt, surging against him with an urgency that dispels the dreamy haze that has settled over Crowley's mind.
"You said," Aziraphale pants, eyes dark and desperate, "something about flat surfaces earlier--?"
The image of Aziraphale up against a wall is enough to make Crowley groan softly and helplessly, but he concentrates, and in a moment they find themselves sitting on the edge of a queen-size bed in a miraculously unoccupied room at the far end of the hotel. The table and chair obediently follow them, but Crowley thinks they're done with wine, for now, and certainly not interested in putting clothes on. He nudges both items into materialising in the closet where they'll be out of the way.
"Oh, thank you," Aziraphale sighs, and then his hands are at the nape of Crowley's neck, untying the ribbon that's holding his hair back.
Crowley shivers and leans into the touch, and Aziraphale combs his fingers through the loosened strands with the same soft reverence you'd use to touch another's wings. Crowley presses his face into Aziraphale's neck, feeling himself relax involuntarily. It's all transgressive, is the thing, and the handful of times he's felt Aziraphale stroke his hair like this have never been enough.
He presses a kiss against Aziraphale's skin, feels him suck in a sudden breath of air. Intrigued, he does it again, this time with a bit more pressure, a bit more tongue, tasting Aziraphale's throat. Aziraphale's hands tighten in his hair, almost hard enough to hurt, and that makes Crowley suck in a breath of his own. He moves his lips to the place where Aziraphale's jaw smooths towards his ear, runs careful teeth over the ridge of it, and Aziraphale gasps and arches under him, almost overbalancing in his eagerness.
"We should--" Crowley starts, but Aziraphale is already moving, avalanche-certain, pushing Crowley down onto the bed, hands going immediately to the buttons of his shirt. "Yeah. That."
The fussy little buttons on Aziraphale's waistcoat have been taunting him for over a century. He's watched the velvet wear away under Aziraphale's fingertips, watched the garment mould to him with the perfection of decades of use. He's thought far too many times about doing what he's doing now: pinching the edge of the velvet between his fingertips, nudging the button with his thumb until it slides through the slit, seeing the waistcoat part a fraction, moving on to the next. It is, Crowley thinks, probably one of the weirder things anyone has ever found erotic, but he's long given up on making sense of the ways that Aziraphale drives him to distraction.
Aziraphale has made rather swifter progress, is pushing aside Crowley's shirt and running his hands across his chest with curiosity and something like reverence. Crowley bites his lip to maintain concentration on his own task, but that makes Aziraphale say, "Oh!" and lean forward suddenly to kiss him, just as Crowley's almost got the last button undone.
"Angel," he protests, but that just means his mouth is open, and Aziraphale dives in like he's searching for treasure, and Crowley briefly forgets about that last stubborn button in favour of grabbing Aziraphale's hips and dragging him down so their bodies are flush together.
Fine, okay, the button wins, the button is victorious, Crowley grabs the hem of Aziraphale's waistcoat and tugs very pointedly at it until Aziraphale reluctantly pulls back enough to let him slide it over his head. Crowley doesn't bother going through the same rigamarole with the shirt underneath; he just glares at it, and it falls open, easy enough to push off Aziraphale's shoulders.
"You have me at a disadvantage, dearest," Aziraphale says mildly, and Crowley barely bites back a whine at the endearment. There are so many other things Aziraphale could call him, and he'd take them all gladly (except perhaps baby, he's never been fond of that) but dearest is the one that he's secretly longed for since Aziraphale developed that habit of calling him my dear.
"You're the one pinning me to the bed," Crowley points out, breathless and half-laughing.
"Hmm. I suppose that is a fair point."
Aziraphale tries not to use frivolous miracles for his own convenience, no matter what head office seems to think, but just at the moment it seems entirely urgent that he ensure Crowley's shirt teleports itself five feet to the left, to fall in a heap on the floor. He decides he might as well rearrange them at the same time, shifting them properly onto the bed so Crowley has a pillow under his head.
"Didn't take you for the sort to want to be on top," Crowley says, teasing tone rather ruined by the way his pupils are so dilated they almost look round.
"Didn't you?" Aziraphale replies, arching an eyebrow and running his hand quite purposefully down the centre of Crowley's chest, over his stomach and navel, fetching up against the fastening of his trousers. "You haven't been paying attention, then, dear boy."
Aziraphale lets his hand dip lower. The noise Crowley makes is everything he hoped for, strangled and desperate and helpless, as Aziraphale runs his thumb with thoughtful delicacy along the line of Crowley's delightfully hard cock.
"I mean," Crowley pants, reaching for Aziraphale's waistband like he's thinking of simply tearing his trousers off him. "I thought you might want to. Didn't think you'd have the nerve to do it."
"I have a lot of nerve tonight," Aziraphale tells him, stroking deliberately in time with the words so that Crowley writhes and whines at the back of his throat. "Dutch courage, and all that."
Crowley stills, and catches hold of Aziraphale's wrist.
"D'you-- want to sober up, first?" he says. "Just to be sure--"
For two thousand years, it's been moments like these that have been the hardest to resist. For all that Aziraphale finds Crowley's body appealing, for all that his laughter and his cleverness and his companionship draw Aziraphale in like a moth to a flame, it's always these moments of consideration that chip away at his battered willpower. The kindness, the softness of it; the simple, honest desire to put Aziraphale first; the way that no matter how Crowley sometimes snaps and snarls to cover it up, Aziraphale has never for a second been afraid of him, not since he offered him shelter in the Garden and they watched Adam take Eve's hand and lead her into the desert.
"I'm quite comfortable," Aziraphale says, and to make his point, he shifts against Crowley, sliding his leg between Crowley's thighs. He nudges up and in, and Crowley whimpers and lets go of his wrist. "If you are?"
"Never better," Crowley manages, eyes fluttering shut as Aziraphale repeats the movement. "Ngh," he adds, with an eloquence that brings a smile to Aziraphale's face.
He's had certain fantasies, about Crowley's eyelids drooping like that, about the way his throat moves when he swallows, ever since he saw both for the first time in Rome. He doesn't think the oysters were really to blame. Could have been anything, really. Bread dipped in oil, stuffed vine leaves, that exquisite concoction of honey and butter. It was the first time they ate together. The first time Aziraphale reached out to Crowley, asked for his company. The first time they drank too much wine, and leaned on each other to stay upright, and felt the heat of the summer night seep into their skin until they were both rosy with it, both breathless, both looking into each other's eyes and realising with drunken clarity that it would be best if they parted ways, right now, and did not seek each other out again until some time had passed.
The first time Aziraphale knew what it was to want for more than food or wine or good company. And to know the pain of walking away from it, over, and over, and over again.
He dips his head to press his mouth against Crowley's neck, not so much kissing as tasting, worshipping, promising fealty. Crowley moans under him and Aziraphale likes that, oh, more than likes, he adores that sound. He catches Crowley's gold hoop earring in his mouth, sucks on it, tugging, and Crowley's arms are suddenly around him, crushing him down in desperation, a long, low sound escaping his throat.
"Tell me," Crowley gasps, thumbs sliding under Aziraphale's waistband, dipping over his hip bones and making him shudder, "angel, tell me what you want, let me--"
Aziraphale wants far too many things to fit into one night, far too many things to fit into eternity, but if he has to choose just one, then what he wants is to wring those noises from Crowley again, to make him lose his words and lose his mind and lose that facade of cool detachment that he's never been very good at maintaining anyway.
Miracling away the remainder of their clothing seems like a good start on getting to that point, so he does.
"I want you to say my name," he whispers into Crowley's ear, nibbling on the curve of it to feel him shudder.
"Aziraphale," Crowley replies immediately, obliging, and it's certainly pleasingly breathless, but it's not quite what Aziraphale has in mind.
He bucks his hips pointedly, and Crowley's fingers tighten on him, and Crowley's face contorts with a lovely urgency that just begs for Aziraphale to do it again. He does it again. Crowley makes a soft sound and turns his head to kiss Aziraphale, clumsy and needy and perfect. Aziraphale thinks about the way he wants this to go. He wonders if he can make Crowley ask for it, make him abandon a habit of six thousand years and just say what he wants out loud.
He's not sure he has the self-control to find out, not when Crowley's hands are shifting, cupping his buttocks, pulling Aziraphale in harder and closer so that the wonderful friction of it all is focused entirely on their eager cocks. Aziraphale thinks briefly that this might have been a slightly simpler proposition if one of them had made an effort in a different direction, as it were, but force of habit is hard to break, and anyway, humans seem to manage with every possible configuration nature provides.
"Can you," Crowley says, stops, more flushed than Aziraphale's ever seen him, eyes averted, teeth catching his lip. "I mean. I. I want..." He tilts his hips pointedly, mouth going slack at the renewed pressure. "Please."
Close enough, Aziraphale thinks, and adds another frivolous miracle to the pile, conjuring slickness where it's most needed, diving in for another taste of Crowley's mouth as he shifts his hips to a new alignment.
Crowley cries out when he pushes inside, but it's not a cry of pain, not even slightly. His hands scrabble at the backs of Aziraphale's thighs, his head lolls back and his mouth drops open, he's so utterly, beautifully undone, that Aziraphale has to pause a moment and close his eyes to keep himself from arriving at a premature conclusion to events.
Crowley whines with need, and he can't leave the poor dear hanging, regardless of his own situation, so Aziraphale finds a handhold on Crowley's sharp hip bone and sighs a shaky benediction as he settles in deeper, as he seeks out Crowley's wonderful, teasing mouth and bites half-wild kisses into it, too frantic to be careful. Crowley squirms and bucks and then his legs are winding around Aziraphale, heels digging into the backs of his knees, and he's panting helplessly against Aziraphale's mouth, and yes, this, this was what Aziraphale wanted, this is what he's always wanted...
He thrusts, gently but with certainty, and Crowley throws back his head and moans, and it's far too easy, then, to fall into the rhythm of it, as if they were made for this, as if this messy human pleasure were some reflection of the divine. Somehow his hand has found Crowley's, their fingers entwining. Somehow Crowley's hair has spread across the pillow beneath him like a rippled halo of dawn fire. Somehow, Aziraphale thinks with a brief and potent clarity, they have found this one single moment where all eyes are elsewhere and all bets are off.
"Aziraphale!" Crowley cries, just the way he's always dreamed of, movements becoming frantic and graceless.
"Dearest," Aziraphale whispers against his lips.
Aziraphale doesn't know if one of them is cheating, to time it so exactly. He doesn't much care. Climax rushes through him even as he feels Crowley spill hot and sticky between their bodies, and it's nothing like the times he's tried it alone (even though it's always been Crowley's name on his lips) because mixed in with his own pleasure is the ecstatic awareness of Crowley's, the knowledge that this delicious obliteration of the senses is shared, and that Crowley does, in fact, make just as much noise, with just as little restraint, as Aziraphale hoped.
When it ebbs, he folds easily into Crowley's embrace, face pressed to that warm hollow between neck and shoulder, a wetness in his eyes that he tells himself is just from the overwhelming physical sensation of it all. He can feel Crowley's chest rising and falling fast beneath him, the thunder of his heart, the heat radiating off him like sun-warm rocks. Crowley's fingers in his hair, stirring his wayward curls to new chaos, cradling him close like he's precious and irreplaceable, like no-one has ever loved the way they love, not in all the history of the world.
After a while, they move wordlessly, cleaning themselves up, winding around each other so that Aziraphale can bury his fingers knuckle-deep in Crowley's hair, and Crowley can mouth kisses over Aziraphale's collarbone like it's the most fascinating piece of anatomy he's ever encountered.
Aziraphale finds that there's a certain way to tug on Crowley's hair, pull and release, stroke and twist, that produces a noise very like a purr, makes him melt boneless in Aziraphale's arms. He likes that just as much as sex, he thinks, and wonders what it would be like to braid those russet locks and then move on to preening Crowley's gorgeous black wings.
It's dark and quiet. Aziraphale supposes that, back in the hall, the music is still playing and the punch is still flying—er, flowing. He wonders if any other angel has been tempted into this sort of debauchery. It seems unlikely. What demon would even come up with such a ludicrous proposition...?
"So, this wager you have going in Hell," Aziraphale says finally. Crowley stirs reluctantly against him. "Whose idea was it, exactly?"
He feels Crowley stiffen, then feels him strive for nonchalance.
"Oh... I dunno. Some desk jockey, probably. No-one important."
Aziraphale hums thoughtfully and drags his thumb down the nape of Crowley's neck. He enjoys the trembling sigh it gets him.
"You're a terrible liar, my dear."
Crowley groans into Aziraphale's neck.
"Look, I was just thinking it would give us cover to get sloshed together, okay? I didn't think... I didn't mean... I didn't plan..."
"You rarely do."
"Oh, shut up." Crowley's hand trails down Aziraphale's back and grabs a handful of flesh that makes Aziraphale squeak and writhe against him before can control himself. "I'm good at improvising. Working it out as I go along."
"Mmm. Just like you're great at seduction?"
Crowley raises his head and casts a long, slow, assessing look over their intertwined bodies.
Aziraphale laughs, and kisses him, and pushes away the bittersweetness of it all, to finally know what he's been missing, and to know that it will be just as far out of his reach tomorrow as it has been every day until now. This has to be enough. He will make it be enough. And speaking of... he nudges closer to Crowley, making it known with a gentle shove of his hips that he is not bothering with such human limitations as refractory periods.
"Again?" Crowley says, delighted and scandalised in equal measure. "Angel, I'm shocked."
"We have until morning," Aziraphale replies softly, and Crowley's expression falters into a bittersweet tenderness that wrings his heart dry.
"Better make it count then," Crowley says, rolling them suddenly over, settling between Aziraphale's legs. "And it’s my turn on top."
(It turns out that even one night is enough to try a number of interesting things. Aziraphale will never look at chocolate mousse quite the same way again.)
The morning after is certainly an interesting experience, in Hell at least. Crowley isn't hungover, because he has far too much practice to allow that to happen, but whatever Michael put in the punch seems to be resistant to being miracled away, and a large number of demons are nursing headaches and wounded pride. Everyone who took part in the wager has gathered in the canteen (which mostly serves heaping helpings of despair and regret, but does quite good coffee) to compare notes. The prize is sitting on one of the sticky-topped tables, a ceremonial urn of some kind stuffed with folded slips of paper and occasional rolls of parchment.
He didn't honestly expect anyone to win the pot, of course, but he's still finding it hilarious just how badly they failed. When Lamia sees him, she throws a chair at him, but not quickly enough to hide the soot clinging to her skin from a good smiting. Ligur has a lot to say about how he spent his evening, but somewhere along the way he seems to have become confused between baseball and football, and Crowley's pretty sure he never 'took a penalty shot'' with any angel or demon or even his own hand. He certainly can't prove it.
"What about you?" Lamia asks, finally condescending to stop glaring daggers at him. "Did you ever get the rest of that striptease?"
Crowley panics, thinking of Aziraphale's desire-dark eyes and the way he panted for more and his warm skin and his soft sounds of longing.
"Yeah, definitely, we, uh, we did it three times, you know."
Lamia rolls her eyes, while Ligur's chameleon turns a skeptical shade of blue.
"Figured you'd strike out like the rest of us," Lamia mutters, and Crowley bites down hard on the grin that wants to take over his face. His hair is falling loose across his shoulders because Aziraphale refused to give him back his ribbon, saying he wanted it as a 'token'. The marks of Aziraphale's lips on Crowley's skin won't fade until Crowley wants them to. He's currently quite sold on the idea of keeping them forever.
Was it a mistake? Has he only made things worse for himself - for both of them - by bringing into full reality the extent of what they want from each other, and can't have? He thinks they'll have to be careful for a while now. Take a step back. Keep each other out of arm's reach. He thinks there'll be a lot of foul fiend from Aziraphale, and that he'll need to do some of his own sharp-edged deflection, playing the bad guy to give Aziraphale room to breathe.
He thinks it was worth it, though. Before they parted in the morning, Aziraphale said, almost shyly despite the night they spent together, "Could we dance together again?"
The hotel room didn't have a stereo, but that didn't matter when Crowley was feeling sufficiently determined. He conjured a nice waltz for Aziraphale, something by Strauss, and let himself be spun around the room, half-dressed and half-drunk and half-disbelieving. Aziraphale kissed his cheek, and the corner of his lips, and Crowley trembled as if they were still naked and writhing on the bed.
He thinks it was worth it. And a thousand years is a long time to wait, but he's already got ideas about the next corporate party...
The door slams open. Crowley looks up, to see Beelzebub stomping into the room, glowering at everyone she passes. So far, so much the usual, except that as she draws nearer, his eyes are drawn irresistibly to something she's wearing around her neck.
The almond-white cashmere scarf is lightyears away from her usual style, but there's something very familiar about it, and about the faint violet sheen to the weave. It's a perfect match for Gabriel's eyes. Crowley's mouth drops open. It can't... it can't be.
A hush is falling over the assembled demons. Beelzebub doesn't trouble to acknowledge it. She simply stalks up to the urn, takes hold of it, and raises it high, daring any demon to challenge her. Silence falls. No-one speaks.
Beelzebub smirks. She turns and sweeps back out of the room without a word. There is, Crowley sees, a single white feather stuck in her hair like a trophy.
"Fuck me," breathes Lamia, awe and envy in her eyes.
"That's why she's the boss," says Ligur, though he's frowning like he's still trying to work out the details. "D'you think he survived?"
Crowley mumbles something and beats a hasty retreat, torn between hysteria and horror. It only gets worse when he finally meets up with Aziraphale some weeks later, both of them a careful distance apart, tossing bread to the ducks in St James's Park.
"Do you know," Aziraphale says lightly, "there's the oddest rumour going around Heaven."
"Really? What about?"
"They're saying that Michael found Gabriel in a most undignified position after the party the other week."
Crowley chokes and drops an over-large chunk of bread into the water. A swan makes for it determinedly.
"I doubt it's true," Aziraphale goes on, his tone of voice making it very clear that he wishes it were true. "I don't see how Gabriel could have ended up tied to a lamppost. Especially in, well, a state of undress."
Crowley makes what he hopes is another interrogative noise.
"Or where the traffic cone could have come from," Aziraphale muses, and that's it, that's the end of Crowley's self control, he doubles over and heaves with laughter like he's had a bad prawn and it's coming back for revenge.
"Something you're not telling me, my dear?"
It's not dearest, it can't be, but there's a softness to it, a promise: if ever the opportunity arises, if ever they find themselves no longer balanced on this knife-edge, it will become dearest again in the flutter of a heartbeat. Crowley's laughter eases, but for once - just for once - he doesn't even try to hide the way he looks at Aziraphale.
He can wait. They both can. It's not what they'd choose, but it's better than the alternative.
"Come for lunch with me," he says. "I'll tell you all about it."