It was the club that convinced Aziraphale to come with him, in the end-- not his club, but the one they’ll go to now, together. With things being as they are now, well…
The way things are now, Crowley and Aziraphale are still Hell and Heaven’s respective agents on Earth, free to enjoy all its little pleasures the way they’ve been doing, and with even less scrutiny on Crowley’s side-- oh, they’ll bother him whenever they feel like it, sure, but they just won’t notice his relationship with Aziraphale. Which means there’s no reason not to have a relationship with Aziraphale-- a real relationship, one without the distance, one without the pretense, no playing things casual, no acting like they aren’t the most important person in each other’s lives…
It had been comfortable, sure, they’d been comfortable for ages. But there were avenues they didn’t explore, there were doors they didn’t open. Things they knew were there that they always thought they couldn’t, or shouldn’t, and then… then things were different. Their priorities were different. They’d been faced with thinking about what it would be to lose each other, and for the first time, they didn’t think they had eternity to sort it out.
Well. Now they have each other. They’d slid into each other’s pockets pretty smoothly, given the chance. The sex has been a change, but a nice one. Just as startling a change, they’d discussed altering the Arrangement for the first time in a long time. Discussed traveling together, even if only one of them still intends to handle both miracle and temptation.
When Crowley had been told they wanted him overseas for a quick bit of work, Aziraphale had been reluctant, pointing out that they could spend a few days apart, and enjoy the reunion when he got back. Crowley had suggested they use it as a little holiday, promised he’d still cover the work, brought up the food they could try, sights Aziraphale hadn’t seen in ages if at all. The states might not be his favorite, but wouldn’t he rather have a little getaway than spend days apart so soon into this new phase of their relationship?
It’s not that the time apart would really hurt them, it would be a drop in the bucket next to the time they’ll have. But it is a bit of a honeymoon period, and given how long it took them to take this step, and how long they hope to have, Crowley’s not sure how long the honeymoon feeling will last. A couple hundred years sounds just about right.
Anyway, it’s the promise of taking him to the club that convinces Aziraphale that he could bear to leave England for a little while-- he’d been wanting to explore things, now that they were romantically, sexually involved, and while there were certain things he felt comfortable with simply doing, there were quite a lot of things it turned out he was interested in learning about. Kinky things, much to Crowley’s delight.
The thing was, Aziraphale didn’t feel like he could just go next door and ask for books or recommendations, he wanted to be sure that they were doing everything properly, and he felt the best way of being sure was if they went to the sort of club where people engaged in certain activities-- as he’d put it-- so that they could see what appealed, and how it was best done. And Crowley had pointed out that there were certainly places conveniently located in Aziraphale’s neighborhood where they could do that, only for Aziraphale to turn bright red and shut the conversation down. Fair, he supposes. Aziraphale doesn’t want to come face to face with the checkout clerk at the market where he buys his favorite tea, or one of his frequent browsers, or his usual sushi-ya… but when Crowley mentions going to a club on the other side of the world?
It’s a date.
“Do you know what you want to do?” Crowley asks, miracling their luggage to the hotel room with a flick of the wrist. They’d packed, but flying their way made it much easier to bring it along after the fact than to try and carry it.
“When we go to the club-- you’d said before you weren’t sure what appealed to you most. Have you thought about it much since?”
His cheeks go delicately pink, but there’s no sputtering or shutting down, only a little smile. “Observing, mostly, I think-- er, but… well, dear, have you any preferences?”
“I’m greedy, I am.” Crowley shrugs, and drapes himself against Aziraphale’s back, winding his arms around him and nuzzling into the soft waves of his hair. “I want it all. Well-- not all, exactly, but a lot.”
“Both. For different things. But… if we’re going just to have a look around and a chat and learn about things, I think I’d rather… Now you really don’t have a preference?”
“Not yet.” He smiles even wider, reaching up to press his hand to Crowley’s cheek. “Not really. There are… there are certain things that seem attractive to me, but it isn’t very well defined for me, as yet. This is one thing I never have explored. For all the things I’ve tried, and watched others try, and discussed and read about, well…”
“You don’t mind me taking the reins tonight, when we’re out?”
“I think I’d prefer it.” He sighs. “I don’t deny I’d like having you tied to the bed awaiting my pleasure, my dear, and I do think you’d be a pretty picture, but… I’ll be comfortable letting you guide me, tonight. I-- I think I’d much prefer, if… if your vulnerable side were my own secret. If we explored that side more fully when we’re alone.”
Crowley feels something in him relax at that-- he feels the same. He likes trusting Aziraphale with himself, he likes the idea of pouring himself out of all his defenses and into Aziraphale’s strong yet soft hands, he likes the idea of Aziraphale tying him down and particularly the idea of Aziraphale using his mouth for his pleasure, over and over again, likes a few other ideas he hasn’t yet sorted through fully but knows he trusts Aziraphale with. He likes knowing he could be pushed to tears and feel clean after, if it was with Aziraphale. But those are things for them alone, and he doesn’t like the idea of witnesses. It’s only Aziraphale he wants to be weak for. Aziraphale’s seen his lowest, after all, and Aziraphale’s also seen his best, it feels safe and it feels right. In public, he’d much prefer to be in command.
And he knows Aziraphale feels differently about how he presents, because Aziraphale has always presented himself as beyond non-threatening. Aziraphale has always been very comfortable hiding his strength and openly embracing his softness. Aziraphale doesn’t feel weak when he shows those parts of himself to others. Quite the opposite, Crowley thinks, Aziraphale feels his most secure and strong when he can be soft, when he can rely openly on Crowley. He could take charge of things when it’s the two of them, could shove Crowley down on his back and ride him and tell him to behave if he wants his own fun, tease him with words like ‘wicked’ and ‘naughty’ and pretend he’s in need of a bit of punishing, but… that’s not who he wants to be in front of others. That’s for the two of them alone, that’s its own kind of sacred.
Which is not to say it’s more real, only that things are odd and nebulous and they both have things they want and things they need to explore, and none of it is cut-and-dried.
But tonight’s a start.
They change, they go out to a very nice dinner-- Aziraphale has clams and salmon over angel hair pasta, and a couple of Crowley’s oysters to boot, and dinner puts him in a very good mood indeed, before they make their way to the club Crowley had looked into. It’s early yet, and they find a low velvet settee in a corner where they can relax, Aziraphale leaning against Crowley’s side as they share a glass of wine.
“This reminds me of the club-- my club, I mean. How it used to be. Back in the old days, do you remember?”
Crowley hums in agreement. He remembers going with Aziraphale when the place was new, before he’d knocked out for an eighty-odd year nap. Of course, back then, he’d been young and pretty and he’d sprawled across Aziraphale’s lap at every opportunity, because he always had. Aziraphale had such a nice lap, so soft and sturdy and warm. From the very first time Crowley had been permitted to coil across Aziraphale’s thighs, he’d found that lap the safest place in the world. He could relax with Aziraphale, he could feel at peace.
Now, their positions are somewhat reversed-- Crowley has planted himself on the settee and welcomed Aziraphale to get cozy against him. He’s gone for a look that’s older, if not older than Aziraphale looks, not by a long shot. But older than he used to present himself, handsome in a sharp sort of way, able to shift between enticing and intimidating as need be. Old enough that if he said he and Aziraphale have known each other a long time, it wouldn’t seem odd.
There’s another settee angled near their own, so that both have a view of both the dance floor and the dais with rigging for suspension.
Another couple joins them as the place starts to get more into the swing of things, two men Crowley would estimate at forty, their hands tangled together as they laugh over some private joke and pull each other through the growing crowd to find a seat.
“Is this couch taken?” One asks-- taller, broader, not so pretty but with a nice enough face, dark shirt and slacks. He pushes his glasses up his nose, and Crowley motions them to it with an imperious wave, his other hand currently occupied with playing through Aziraphale’s hair. “Thanks. Okay, teddy bear, wait right here and be good, I’ll get the drinks.”
“Teddy bear?” His partner raises an eyebrow.
“Okay, princess, wait right here and be a pain in my ass, and I’ll get the drinks.” He sighs dramatically, though it’s shot through with an honest fondness, and something giddy. Crowley can taste the thread of desire and the little tingle that comes with defeated fear, defiance, and he can’t feel human love the way that Aziraphale can, but he doesn’t need to be able to feel it to know that it’s there.
The slighter man is handsome in a way that’s gone out of style, looks that don’t turn as many heads now but which Crowley remembers being very much in vogue once, and while he hasn’t got Aziraphale’s figure, his dress sense is similar, with a shirt that’s barely blue and slacks that are barely oatmeal, and a sleeveless jumper that’s barely any color at all. He watches his partner move through the crowd to the bar, as if an invisible thread connects them and he has no choice but to be attentive, lest it tug too sharp at him-- and then, when the man starts back towards them, he immediately turns away as if he hadn’t been watching. You could call it coy, if he wasn’t so pink-cheeked, if he could hide his grin any better.
“Your drink, my love.” He puts on a ridiculous voice, bowing as he hands it over, and the moment he’s sitting down, his partner’s legs are stretched out across his lap. “You’re welcome.”
“Yes, I am.”
“D’you come here often?” Crowley asks, because he knows Aziraphale would like him to ask, would like him to make small talk until they can ask actual questions of someone, would like to understand what all these different strangers find in that thing that they do.
“No, no. We’re new in town. We just found the place, and, uh… we’re kind of new to this.” The taller of the two admits, hand coming to wrap around a shin. “Well, we’re kind of new to… you know. Some of this. He’s always been a brat.”
“I have always been a model boy. You’re the one who’s always liked to tease me. I’ve never been anything but good in my life.”
“You’re a spoiled brat and you love it when I tease you.”
“No I don’t.” It is, delightfully, a lie. Crowley is attuned to lies-- to a demon, a lie is a bit like a smoker taking a drag, a hit of something chemically wonderful, if poisonous. This particular lie is not one most demons would find very satisfying. There’s no art to it, for starters, no attempt to convince, and of course it is gooey with sentiment. Even without feeling it, it’s inescapable. Crowley finds he likes it.
Aziraphale certainly does-- he knows when there’s a surge of love by the way Aziraphale snuggles in closer to him and beams over at the pair. Watches the taller man lean far forward to pinch his partner’s cheek and coo at him.
“Anyway-- sorry, sorry about him-- what about you? Have you been in the area long?”
“Here on business. Brought the mister along.” Crowley says, tilting Aziraphale towards him and giving him a warm smile. “Thought we’d… explore. We’re a bit new to it ourselves, but… well, I’m not one for resisting temptation. Am I, dove?”
“My dear, you are temptation.” Aziraphale sighs. “But yes, we thought we’d come try and… figure it all out. All the etiquette.”
“Get a crash course.” Crowley chuckles, recovers his wine glass from the side table and brings it to Aziraphale’s lips. “Find out what makes us tick.”
“Figure out all the ins and outs.” The taller of the two men nods. “Learn what a safeword is.”
“We’ve always had a safeword.” His partner laughs. “We had a safeword-- remember? Since we were kids, not that we knew what any of this was, but-- remember?”
“You never used it.”
“I never used it.”
“You like being teased.”
“I tolerate it.”
Aziraphale slips an arm around Crowley and squeezes him. Crowley may not be able to feel human love, but he feels Aziraphale’s sure enough. Now he knows what it is, there’s no mistaking it.
“You were childhood sweethearts?” Aziraphale asks, his voice just brimming with that sort of general angelic love-- the sort Crowley always pretended to find disgusting, and always really found quite endearing.
“Well…” The two exchange glances, share a laugh. “Almost, I think-- almost.”
“For about two hours after I told you my family was moving, we thought we’d run away together.”
“Yeah, but… we didn’t really… Not until we met up again. What about you, how did you two…?”
“Oh, we’ve known each other forever.” Aziraphale turns the fondest look up towards Crowley, places a hand over his heart. “Though-- us as well, it’s only been rather more recent that we’ve…”
“Two months since you gave me your hand and gave me your heart and the world didn’t end.” Crowley strokes his cheek. Only realizes after the words are out how strange they must sound.
“Yes.” The taller man sighs, squeezes his partner’s knee. “That’s… yeah, shit, that’s it exactly, that’s the feeling. The world didn’t end, that’s it exactly.”
“You spend your whole life thinking it will and-- and then you get there and it doesn’t. My mother was not happy about us moving in together.”
“Your mother is a piece of work, lover.”
He rolls his eyes. “Not that I’m going to argue… but I’m not the only one with a rotten childhood, lover.”
“Yeah, well.” He shrugs and sets his drink down, and pulls his partner fully into his lap, despite wriggles of mock protest-- this time, they quickly melt away into a cuddle. “And my parents… but. Like he said. The world didn’t end.”
“I got kicked out.” Crowley says. He wasn’t going to, he’d always thought he couldn’t really talk to humans about his life-- for all the things he loved talking to them about, there were some things they just couldn’t understand, things only Aziraphale could ever really talk with him about. But… these humans, they understand enough about this, provided he keeps it vague. “Long, long, long time ago now. Didn’t see it coming, and then… Well. I mean, ‘s fine, isn’t it? Now, I mean. Hurt then, but you know… I’m glad I am who I am now. I’m glad I’m where I am. And I wouldn’t… have this life, if I hadn’t also had that. Even if it wasn’t… fair to me, if it was an overreaction, if it wasn’t about me really, if I didn’t deserve it then, I… I wound up where I belong. I’m happy now.”
Aziraphale leans up to land a kiss on his jaw, making a soft sound.
“At least my… my people don’t really much care.” He says, his voice just a little too tight for Crowley’s tastes, that note of forced levity. “They wouldn’t even notice, really. Not that-- I mean, not that we ever really speak. They certainly wouldn’t like our being together if they did… they’d probably… get on my case about his being a corrupting influence, or-- well!”
“Corrupting influence, what a bunch of bullshit.” The slighter of the two men huffs. “That’s exactly the kind of thing my mother would say.”
“The kind of thing she did say. To be fair to her, I was a bit of a bad boy back in the day.”
“You got straight As on your math homework.” He laughs, wriggling himself even more comfortably into his partner’s lap. “You used to help me with math homework. You used to carry my books, you were not a bad boy, you were sweet.”
It sounds like the sort of thing Aziraphale would accuse him of, Crowley thinks. Well, not the stuff about maths, given they’ve never had a childhood, let alone whatever sort of scholastic experience these humans have. And he knows Aziraphale prefers to handle his own books. Still, for all their own reasons, Aziraphale likes to insist Crowley is not so bad, is really quite sweet.
“Well, enough about shitty family situations.” Crowley takes a swig from the shared wine glass before bringing it to Aziraphale’s lips once again. “Let’s talk about sex.”
“My favorite subject.” The taller man laughs, lifting his own glass again in a distant toast.
“Really, dear.” Aziraphale says at the same time.
“Oh, relax.” He kisses his temple, breathes in the dust and vanilla scent of his hair. “Nah, just mean… we’re all in the same boat, yeah? Figuring this stuff out, getting into the swing of it. Trying new things. And it’s… it’s not about spicing things up, is it? People talk about it like that, but that isn’t it at all, it’s… just finding the thing that feels right. Either this stuff is a part of your makeup or it’s not.”
“Well if you’re in town for a while, and you come back a couple more times, I don’t see him tonight, but there’s a guy who does really impressive demonstrations with the, uh…” The man gestures to the dais, the rigging system. “Suspension bondage. We watched a scene the first time we came out here. Learned to tie a few knots the boy scouts never taught, but that one wasn’t for us.”
“It was fun, everyone kind of gathered around and had a laugh, trying it for the first time, and he talked about running an informal workshop for some other things, but we weren’t interested.”
“Strictly no medical stuff, no enemas, no sharp implements.” He says, and his partner shudders on ‘medical’. “And no electric… you know. No, I mean… mostly I think we’re content with what it is. We tease each other a lot, I manhandle this little cutie into whatever position I want him in, he gets sassy, maybe there’s a spanking in it-- as long as he can sit down for work-- and it’s… it’s exciting to come out here, and see people doing things we’re not necessarily into trying, and it’s good to be seen. Maybe try a public punishment scene someday. The atmosphere… that’s a big part of it, just getting to be open about everything with other people who are open about everything.”
He can identify parts of himself in both of these men. Like the more dominant partner, he likes to tease Aziraphale, likes to grab for him and pinch his cheek and tug him close, likes to find little ways of catering to him. But the teasing goes two ways between this couple, and Crowley can see himself in the submissive as well, acting up and denying he longs to be held and complimented, putting up a front just to get Aziraphale to break it down… being a little brat just to have the attention. It’s the thrill he gets when Aziraphale tuts over his mischief and calls him ‘wicked’ with such loving fondness, it’s a part of this. And there is a thrill, as well, he supposes, in being free to be public about it.
“So far I think I could be interested in anything.” Crowley says, giving Aziraphale’s hair a gentle tug, feeling the way it relaxes him-- and the little bitty jolt of desire. “We’ll have to come around a bit more, won’t we? Try and catch one of those ropework demonstrations-- would you like that, angel?”
“Very much, yes.”
“Might extend our stay a bit if you’re in no rush to get back.” He suggests-- it’s early enough in the night that there’s still a chance they’ll see the demonstration later this night, let alone during the week they have booked, but… “I know you prefer being in England, but It would give us the chance to try a few more restaurants…”
“Oh-- there’s an oyster bar just up the block from--” One of the men starts.
“That sushi place-- was that sushi place on Post?-- that you took me last week--” The other interrupts.
“Of course the Sausage Factory--”
“Oh! You know, if you’re a sweets guy, the absolute best desserts--”
“And if you get outside the city-- you want to talk about good wine? Let me tell you, you head out to the valley, the wining and dining…”
“Well… perhaps we could extend our stay a little while longer than we initially planned.” Aziraphale shrugs, catching his lip between his teeth and sending Crowley a look.
“Mm, and I’m sure there are bookshops you could browse while I’m working… I’ll arrange us a little downtime before we fly home.” He grins, taking Aziraphale’s chin in hand and kissing him soundly. “Now, let me get the names of these restaurants?”
There’s one thing they know they can indulge in, at least. And if they spend a few more nights learning, it could be time well spent.