When Crowley suggested a holiday was exactly what they needed after the Apuff-of-smokalypse, Aziraphale had been so shocked he’d agreed without thinking it over, something he generally didn’t do. Things tended not to go well if he didn’t first spend time thinking of all the ways they could not go well, and he’d been known to take decades to make a decision. But now that he had, in fact, agreed to go, he simply had to do all the thinking afterward, as Crowley threw himself into plans for what was turning into a grand tour of Italy. Perhaps a change of pace would be nice after eleven years of constant worry and nearly a week of downright panic. Besides, it would be wonderful to see more of the world. Aziraphale hadn’t seen much of it since opening his bookshop, having realized once he had that it was extremely nice to have a place that was his to settle down into. Crowley had maintained that he liked wandering about the way they had for most of the previous millennia, but Aziraphale wasn’t fooled, because he immediately managed to get his flat in Mayfair right after that. Though Aziraphale wasn’t sure Crowley actually did anything at his flat besides sleep. And apparently grow houseplants.
Still, thinking about his bookshop started Aziraphale wondering if it was really the best idea to leave right now. After all, they’d only just stopped the Arma-I’ll-be-on-my-way-now-thank-you, and Adam had so kindly brought the shop back into being for him and he really should take stock and make sure everything was still there. There were undoubtedly new discoveries to be made, and the thought made Azirapahle smile. There really couldn’t be anything more exciting than new books, and it wasn’t as if he didn’t want to go. Just not right away. But when he brought up to Crowley that perhaps they should postpone their holiday the demon groaned aloud.
“Inventory! The last time you conducted inventory you were busy for an entire decade!”
“It takes time to do it properly,” Aziraphale said. “And you’re one to talk. Sleeping away an entire century.”
“You’re coming,” Crowley said, pointing a finger vaguely in Aziraphale’s direction (he was on his fifth glass of wine). “You’re coming, with me, to Rome. Friday.”
Aziraphale was about to protest, then stopped as he processed what Crowley had said. Rome. He wanted to argue, he really did. But he started thinking about Rome, with its art and architecture, the river flowing through the city. Neither of them had been there since the Renaissance, and they had shared so much history there it might be nice to revisit and remember. Oh, and the food. Authentic carbonara sauce and tartufo and gelato on every corner. Rice balls and light Caprese salads with the best mozzarella in the world. Wonderful Italian wines and espresso that no one else did as well. And all of that paled in comparison to knowing he’d be doing all of it with Crowley. Oh, it wasn’t as if they’d never done anything together before but that was more because they always happened to find themselves in the same place at the same time. Or meeting for business, having to keep a constant lookout and completely unable to relax. This would be more...deliberate. It would be them going somewhere together because they wanted to go to that specific place together and do all those things together. It was that, more than anything else, that made Aziraphale start to smile.
Crowley grinned. “Come on, you want to come. You know no one does gelato like the Romans.”
Aziraphale sent him a mildly dirty look. “Well, I suppose it’s pointless to try to resist if you’re really going to tempt me,” he said.
Crowley smiled - seductively, Aziraphale noticed with a shiver that had nothing to do with the temperature - and leaned forward to grab the wine bottle. “Thing about tempting is all you have to do is convince people to do what they want to do anyway,” he said.
Which is how Aziraphale ended up standing on the sidewalk of Rome’s airport, waiting for Crowley to go pick up their transportation. He supposed they could have miracled themselves here, but they both thought it was best to stay under the radar, so to speak, even if their former head offices were supposed to leave them alone. Right now, Aziraphale is more worried about Crowley’s choice of transportation. It’s terrifying enough driving in the Bentley in London, but by all accounts driving in Rome these days means taking your (eternal) life in your hands even if the person behind the wheel isn’t quite a literal speed demon. Aziraphale smiles delightedly at the unintentional pun, deciding to tell Crowley about it the moment he returns. Only to watch him groan fondly.
But that thought is driven out of his head when he sees what Crowley drives up in. Or more accurately, on. “Crowley, I thought we were renting a car,” Aziraphale says as he surveys the tiny contraption in front of him. “This is - this is…”
“It’s called a moped, angel. Only way to get around Rome nowadays,” Crowley says, looking positively excited about riding to certain discorporation on an Italian highway. Aziraphale looks at the offending vehicle warily. Its wheels are so small it looks as if it would be outstripped by a slow-paced walk and it seems to have barely enough room for one person. “Come on, get on.” Crowley sits down and revs the engine, grinning as it roars altogether too loudly for something so small.
“I’m not getting on that!” Aziraphale says indignantly. “Isn’t there a saying about Italian drivers?”
“Lots of sayings about Italy. Isn’t one of them ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do?'” Crowley asks. Aziraphale weighs his options, finally deciding that Crowley’s terrible driving habits are probably very well suited to Rome before climbing on behind him.
“I feel as if I’m going to fall off already,” he says, moving forward as far as he could. Blushing, of course, as he pushed up against Crowley.
“Nah, you won’t,” Crowley says, sounding very sure of himself. Oh, he’s enjoying this. Aziraphale can hear the grin in his voice. “Hold on, angel.”
“Where exactly do you expect me to-oh,” Aziraphale asks, blushing even more furiously as he realizes the only thing he can hold onto is Crowley’s waist. He reaches out tentatively, holding gingerly onto Crowley’s sides, then lurching backward as Crowley revs the engine and the moped starts moving. Without thinking, Aziraphale leans forward and holds on tighter, wrapping his arms around Crowley’s waist.
Well, it wouldn’t really be accurate to say he wasn’t thinking. He spends the first ten seconds of the ride being all too aware that he’s holding on to Crowley’s waist before the demon really speeds up and then the only thing Aziraphale can think about is holding on for dear life. If he thought the Bentley was bad, it’s nothing like racing through the streets of Rome with absolutely nothing between them and every other driver on the road. At least the Bentley has walls. It turns out going that fast is a thousand times more terrifying when he can hear all the other cars around them and he’s entirely sure mopeds are not supposed to go this fast. They are definitely going to end this holiday getting discorported in the middle of some highway in Rome.
It reminds him of chariots, in a bizarre way. Mostly because Aziraphale had never particularly liked riding horses, until someone invented a contraption in which one had to stand up and hold on while getting pulled along by a galloping horse. Just like he’d never really enjoyed the Bentley, until now, when its solid walls and proven ability to stop seem infinitely preferable to their rented moped.
In the end, the only sensible thing to do is to close his eyes, lean up against Crowley and hold on as tight as he can. Surprisingly, once he does it’s a lot easier to imagine they aren’t hurtling along a highway with lots of other big, heavy cars at illegally fast speeds. Instead, it feels almost as if they’re flying. Crowley’s back is solid and warm and Aziraphale almost feels safe, at least, as long as he forces himself to forget that they could get hit by another car at any moment (He’s sure Crowley would know the make and model of every car that might hit them. Aren’t Italian cars supposed to be fancy and expensive?). It’s rather nice, actually, hugging - holding onto - Crowley like this, and it’s certainly distracting enough that Aziraphale has almost stopped being terrified by the time they stop.
Or at least he thought so. It isn’t until he feels Crowley pat his entwined hands and gently start to pry them apart that he realizes how tightly he’s been holding on. Is still holding on, even though they’ve stopped. “You alright?” Crowley asks, sounding genuinely concerned.
“Oh! Oh, yes,” Aziraphale says, letting go immediately and jumping backward slightly. He regrets it almost immediately. They don’t have to hide anymore, to pretend that every touch is an accident. He didn’t have to act like he’ll Fall if he touches Crowley for more than a brief second. But it’s still not what they do and Aziraphale has a brief moment of panic. What if it’s never what they do? Well, he thinks, it certainly won’t be if he keeps acting like he’s still under Heaven’s yoke. If only he could take it back, but anything he does now - such as grabbing back on - would probably just make it worse. Aziraphale takes a breath and summons up a smile. “It was actually a bit fun,” he says. Surprisingly, it was. Crowley does know what he’s doing when he drives, and it’s given Aziraphale all sorts of ideas about how it might be fun to really fly together one day. But mostly he wants Crowley to know that things are different now. They’re in Italy, together, after they, well, sort of attended the near-end of the world together. He wants Crowley to know that he can do things now he couldn’t before, that they can- can - oh it’s all so confusing and he doesn’t know where to start. They’ve never been able to say it and somehow Crowley always knew, before, and part of Aziraphale wishes Crowley would just figure out what he’s thinking the way he always has, even though they’re free to put it into actual words now.
The thing with words is that after 6000 years of not using them, it’s almost impossible to know which ones are the right ones, even for an angel who’s read every book in the history of humanity. It’s not as if Crowley seems to know what to say either, since he hasn’t said anything. He just smiles, more naturally and honestly than his usual sardonic grin. “Thought it might be too fast for you,” he says, before heading into a nearby piazza, leaving Aziraphale gaping after him.
Because of course he would turn Aziraphale’s own words right back on him. He’s probably been waiting for the perfect moment for it. They both know neither of them had ever been talking about Crowley’s driving when they talked about going too fast, either now or that night in 1967.
I should say something, Aziraphale thinks. It’s backwards, wrong, because Crowley’s always the one who thinks of the plans and starts off conversations and Aziraphale has been unconsciously waiting for him to start this new part of their lives. It would be easy for Crowley; a quick grin, a quip and a kiss and it would be done.
But Crowley has also been waiting for Aziraphale to be ready, so it really has to be Aziraphale who finally says it. Crowley’s been so patient with him, except Aziraphale doesn’t even know where to start. He’s sure he’ll wreck everything if he tries anyway. He talks too much, especially when it’s important, and he’d probably go off on some tangent about gelato and feeding pigeons instead of ducks and he’d never get to what he wanted to say. He doesn’t even know how to say it, now that he finally can. Every book he’s ever read and none of them have anything he can use to tell Crowley how much he...well, this is why he’s been waiting for Crowley to say it.
Instead, Aziraphale follows Crowley into the piazza, where he’d apparently read the angel’s mind and is now holding two cups of gelato. They make their way slowly through the twisting streets, eating their gelato (well, Crowley takes a few bites of his before letting Aziraphale finish it) and it’s so wonderfully relaxing knowing that they can do something like this without an excuse, or constantly looking over their shoulders. It’s so nice Aziraphale almost forgets he’s supposed to be trying to figure out a way to finally take the next step and just starts enjoying himself. “Oh, this is lovely,” he says happily. “It’s such a beautiful day.” He really is perfectly happy simply to walk around Rome with Crowley and find the perfect place to have dinner and he’s just about to wonder if it really would be easier to forget saying anything altogether and just take Crowley’s hand when he realizes where they are.
“The Vatican?” Aziraphale says with some surprise as he sees the distinctive dome of St. Peter's and the queue of people waiting to get in. “Did we really walk that far?”
“Must have,” Crowley says with a perturbed look.
Aziraphale tugs at Crowley’s sleeve to head back; obviously they can’t go into the Vatican together, and he’s never been as fond of churches as he should be anyway. But Crowley puts a hand on his arm to stop him. “You know what I’ve never seen?” he says. “The Sistine Chapel. All those years I knew Michelangelo and I’ve never seen his greatest creation. Well, he wouldn’t think it was his greatest. Used to complain all the time that he wasn’t a painter and only the pope would be enough of an idiot to hire a sculptor to do a painter’s job.” He chuckles. "Probably the first time a pope was ever actually right."
“Yes, well, the pope probably wanted it to be finished at some point. That’s why he didn’t hire Leonardo,” Aziraphale says. “Anyway, you’ve seen it, haven’t you? In books, and on television.” He’d seen it when Michelangelo had finished it, and while there’s nothing quite like the real thing, illustrations in books actually give a better, more close up view of the panels than standing beneath the extremely high ceiling. But then again in Aziraphale's opinion there are very few things that are better in person than in the pages of a book while in a favorite chair with a cup of cocoa.
Crowley scoffs. “That’s not the same! No, angel, I want to see the real thing.” He pauses. “He kept asking me to come see it while he was working on it. Think about it. I had the chance to watch the greatest artist of all time work on his greatest masterpiece and I couldn’t because-” he gestures vaguely down at his feet.
“Yes, but,” Aziraphale says, “Crowley, you can’t just walk into the Sistine Chapel. It’s consecrated! It’s the church where they elect the pope!” Actually, he doesn’t really know how it all works, if there’s degrees of holiness and consecration that would make one church worse than another, but if one was to be worse it would probably be one in the middle of the Vatican.
“I want to see it,” Crowley says stubbornly. “I owe it to him.”
He’s giving Aziraphale a look that has to be the mirror of the one Aziraphale has given Crowley hundreds of times, and suddenly he understands why Crowley has never refused him. “Alright.” Aziraphale says, miracling them quickly to the front of the queue. To Aziraphale’s relief once they’re inside, the actual ground of Vatican City doesn’t seem to be consecrated.
“Course it isn’t,” Crowley says when he brings this up. “Do you know how many demons have been assigned here? One of them was even elected pope!”
Aziraphale shoots him a look. “Who - oh, of course. The Borgia pope.” They’re approaching the Sistine Chapel, which is full of entirely too many people for them to remain inconspicuous. Aziraphale closes his eyes and sends them all suggestions of having to go find gelato at that exact moment. Within a few minutes, the entire chapel is clear.
“Was that you?” Crowley asked.
“I thought it would be rather conspicuous to have everyone watching,” Aziraphale says. “Ready?”
The moment they step into the chapel Crowley’s sharp intake of breath tells Aziraphale they’ve crossed onto consecrated ground. The last time they’d been in a church together is burned into Aziraphale’s memory, for more reasons than just that, but he clearly remembers Crowley hopping around as if he couldn’t stand to touch the ground for more than half a second at a time. At least now there’s no one here to see it, though Aziraphale is unsure exactly what he’s supposed to be doing. It’s uncomfortable to watch Crowley hop around in pain and not be able to do anything about it, even if he was the one who wanted to come here in the first place. Aziraphale can’t even look at the frescoes, distracted by worrying about how long Crowley thinks he’ll be able to stay here.
Then, unexpectedly, Crowley grabs his arm. “Sorry -ow, oh, it’s hot. Needed to, oof, steady myself.”
“Don’t apologize,” Aziraphale murmurs, resting a hand on one of the pews so he doesn’t fall as he takes half of Crowley’s weight.
“Thing is, it’s a bit hard to- ow - see like this,” Crowley says, hopping in a little dance and wincing.
Aziraphale rolls his eyes. “Come here,” he says. He gently takes Crowley’s other arm and pulls him up so he’s standing on top of Aziraphale’s feet.
“Wait, what are you, oh, yeah, that’s much better,” Crowley says, sighing in relief. Aziraphale is blushing so furiously he’s not entirely sure he can even answer right now. He’s holding onto Crowley’s waist exactly the way he did when they were on the moped, although he tells himself now it’s just to steady him. Except this time Crowley’s facing him, his arms naturally resting on Aziraphale’s shoulders. If he tightened his grip it would be a hug, and Aziraphale toys with the idea of doing it for him, except Crowley’s not looking at him. Free from the pain of the consecrated ground, he’s looking up at the ceiling in awe. “You know how many times I listened to him complain about this? Laying on his back on scaffolding, looking up at the ceiling, trying to finish each tiny section before the plaster dried. Not anyone’s fault but his that he wouldn’t let them hire assistants for him,” Crowley says. “But look at it. It’s a - well, I’d say masterpiece, but-”
“Mmm," Aziraphale hums quietly in agreement. "It’s more like a miracle."
Crowley glances down at him. “Has this been one of yours all this time?”
Aziraphale smiles and shakes his head. “No, this was all Michelangelo’s genius, I’m afraid.” He’s always left art out of his miracles. He enjoys too much seeing what humanity comes up with on their own, and it isn’t as if they need the help.
“He told me he put one of the Pope’s lackeys in Hell,” Crowley says. “Can we-?” Aziraphale nods and steers them toward the altar, with its magnificent Last Judgment backdrop.
“No one ever gets what Jesus looked like right,” Aziraphale says.
“No, they don’t, do they?” Crowley asks. Then he smiles. “Yep, there he is. The Pope’s Master of Ceremonies. There, with the snake around him and the donkey’s ears.” Aziraphale remembers what the papacy was like in those days and can’t help but smile at Michelangelo's signature humor, though if he'd been asked at the time he would have had to be disapproving. But really, he’s watching Crowley, who is transfixed by the painting. He’s obviously seen it in illustrations, often enough that he knows what to look for, and he scans the rest of the massive fresco and points at one of the saints. “And that’s where Michelangelo painted himself in. On Saint Bartholomew’s skin.”
Aziraphale looks more closely at the spot Crowley’s pointing at. Crowley may have spent more time with the artist during their days in Renaissance Italy, but Aziraphale had known him well enough to recognize his features immediately, even on a (perfectly rendered) bit of flayed skin. He’s never quite understood the preoccupation humanity has with the generally awful ways the faithful have been killed for their beliefs. Or, for that matter, for killing the faithful in imaginatively terrible ways in the first place. “Not very Heavenly, if even a saint has to carry his own flayed skin around everywhere,” Crowley says.
“Yes, well, as we’ve seen, there isn’t much difference between Heaven and Hell, is there?” Aziraphale says. He's not sure if he imagines it out not but Aziraphale could swear Crowley holds him a little closer when he says that. If he thinks about it he can almost feel it burning where Crowley touches him. Pleasantly, that is. They’re twirling gently as they make their way down the nave, so Crowley can get a good look at the ceiling. Aziraphale is too occupied by having Crowley in his arms and not knowing at all what to do about it to really pay attention to anything else. It’s almost as if they’re dancing. He’d quite like to dance with Crowley, he thinks suddenly. Never mind that he hasn’t danced since the gavotte and he doesn’t know how to do anything else and Crowley would probably think the whole idea is ridiculous and they’re in the Sistine Chapel not a dance club.
“S’pose you can only really see it from up close,” Crowley says. “Still, altogether, it’s something.”
“You’d probably see it better without your glasses,” Aziraphale says quietly. The ceiling is so high he can hardly see it either, so he’s sure Crowley’s dark glasses aren’t helping. “There’s no one here but us.”
Crowley looks at him for a brief second that feels as if it lasts forever before reaching up and taking his sunglasses off. His eyes are fully yellow, probably to help him see the smallest details of the frescoes, Aziraphale decides. Not for any other reason. They’re lovely; he’s always thought so. There are very few colors as bright as the yellow of Crowley’s eyes and Aziraphale smiles without thinking as he watches Crowley look at the frescoes.
He wonders if it’s a sin to be surrounded by the greatest creation in Western art and to think only of the beauty of someone else’s eyes. Not only the greatest creation in Western art, the greatest piece of art glorifying God in the world and all he can think about is Crowley’s beautiful, demonic eyes.
He feels as if he’s Falling, or rather, falling, and for the first time he feels as if he rather wants to.
“There’s you,” Crowley says, cutting into his thoughts.
“What?” Aziraphale says, distracted. Crowley’s pointing to one of the ceiling panels, a sardonic smile on his face. In one half, Eve is being tempted by a half-man, half-serpent to eat the forbidden fruit; in the other, she and Adam are shamefully leaving the Garden, chased by an angel with a sword.
“And, me, I s’pose,” Crowley says. “Michelangelo told me he’d be putting that in there.”
“Is that why you wanted to see it?” Aziraphale asks. “Is that what he thought I looked like?” The angel in the fresco is wearing red and has red hair (red! Of all colors!) and looks about to cut Adam’s throat with their not-flaming sword. Aziraphale wrinkles his nose. “That isn’t how it happened at all.”
“Well, I couldn’t exactly tell him that it was more a gift-giving than a throat-slashing, could I?” Crowley says. “Got me pretty good, though, didn’t he?”
“Good? He made you half snake, half human. He didn’t even get the color right!” Aziraphale says. He’s never looked closely at any depictions of himself and Crowley in art before, though he knows Eden is a popular subject. They never get it right and all it does is remind him of how his first action was one of disobedience, one he’d lived in fear of Falling from for centuries afterward.
“Got my hair color right though,” Crowley says. He’s grinning, and Aziraphale realizes belatedly he just finds it funny. He probably has a collection somewhere of every time someone has painted the temptation in the Garden, much the same way Aziraphale collects misprinted Bibles.
“I’m sure he never could have guessed that we would ever come here to see it,” Aziraphale says.
“Probably not,” Crowley answers. He stops looking up to meet eyes with Aziraphale, whose brain starts screaming at him to say something, because if there’s ever a time it’s definitely now. But he’s frozen in place, with Crowley’s arms around his neck and his hands on Crowley’s waist and they’re staring into each other’s eyes and before Aziraphale has time to think about it, or even figure out who makes the first move, they're kissing.
For about a second, before Aziraphale’s brain catches up with him and he pulls away. “Oh! Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t-”
“Didn’t what? Didn’t mean to?” Crowley asks, and for once he’s deadly serious.
“I-” Aziraphale starts, because he’s realizing now he did mean to, that he’s wanted to do that for decades and now they finally can so there’s no reason they shouldn’t. That after his initial panic he’s glad they’ve done it and he would very much like to do it again. His eyes go wide when he realizes that he’s messed it all up, because now Crowley probably thinks that after all this time he didn’t even mean it and he’ll have no reason to wait for Aziraphale to make it right. He’s thrown away his one chance in a moment of panic. “No, no, that’s not what I meant to say, I just-” didn’t mean to do it now but I don’t really know why.
“Aziraphale?” Crowley says, breaking into his babble. “Shut up.” And then his hands are in Aziraphale’s hair and his lips are on Aziraphale’s and oh, this is so much better. Azirapahle forgets where he is, forgets everything as he closes his eyes and thinks of nothing but Crowley’s lips on his and his arms around Crowley’s waist and it’s over. Everything he’s been worried about all day is past, and now there’s nothing left but him and Crowley, and Aziraphale wonders what he’d ever been worried about. This is so natural it’s like - well the humans would say breathing, but as Aziraphale doesn’t need to breathe this feels much more natural than that. Aziraphale realizes that he hadn’t fully grasped what freedom felt like until then, but if this is what it means...he leans in closer and all but crushes Crowley in his enthusiasm.
They finally break apart after what feels like hours but can’t be more than a minute and just look at each other. “Well,” Aziraphale says. “I’m sure Michelangelo never thought of that.”
Crowley bursts out laughing. “The Serpent of Eden and the Guardian of the Eastern Gate kissing in the Sistine Chapel? I don’t think anyone saw that coming.” He smiles, softer and fonder than Aziraphale has ever seen him smile before, and Aziraphale smiles back, blushing furiously. Crowley leans in and whispers in his ear, “You know you outshine all of this, don’t you, angel?”
“Crowley!” Aziraphale cries, as Crowley hugs him again, burying his face in Aziraphale’s neck and kissing him again.
“What?” Crowley murmurs against him. “We’re in God’s House. You’re one of Her angels. What better place to tell you that you’re Her greatest creation?”
Oh, Aziraphale isn’t sure he won’t just discorporate on the spot if Crowley keeps saying things like that, or just looking at him like that, like there’s nothing else in the universe that matters to him. He’s blushing so furiously his face feels as if it’s on fire, though underneath he’s somewhat perturbed. It isn’t that he’s upset about being free of Heaven, quite the opposite, but still...that had been his purpose for six thousand years. “I’m not really one of Her angels anymore, am I?” Aziraphale says.
“My angel, then,” Crowley says, softly and tenderly and he kisses Aziraphale again, holding his face gently, as if he’s something precious that could break.
Aziraphale is quite used to feeling love, usually in the background, occasionally from Crowley when he can’t hide it anymore, but he’s never allowed himself to feel it himself. Too dangerous to give in. Which is why it takes him a second to identify the warm, light feeling filling him up as love. He feels as if he could float on how wonderful a feeling it is, and this time, he doesn’t have to stop feeling it, ever. He can, at last, let himself love Crowley. Be Crowley’s angel, which he realized the moment Crowley said it aloud was all he ever wanted to be again. He smiles into Crowley’s lips and every candle in the chapel lights aflame of its own accord. “Oh, goodness, was that me?” Aziraphale asks.
Crowley grins at him. “Wasn’t me. They probably would have exploded if it was. Too much holiness for my kind of fire. We should go,” he says, as the light streaming in from outside starts to dim. “Wouldn’t want the Pope to catch us.”
Aziraphale giggles. “Yes, you’re right.” They start moving toward the exit and as they cross the threshold, Crowley steps off of Aziraphale’s feet.
“Dinner?” Crowley asks.
Aziraphale nods happily. “There’s a place we passed on the way that looked lovely.” Crowley gestures for him to lead, then casually takes his hand as they walk.
Perhaps we didn’t need to say anything, Aziraphale thinks, squeezing Crowley’s hand gently and smiling up at him. The thing about words that he often forgets is that sometimes one doesn’t need them at all.