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Sleight of Hand

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London, 1941

 

 

Blink and you’ll miss it. 

 

It’s there in the shuffling, in the palming— a careful wrist movement, a flick of the fingers. 

Now you see it, now you don’t. 

It’s there passing each other on the street, sitting across from each other on public transport, beneath the table at a café. It’s there in the passing of pots of tea, glasses of wine. It is there behind the pulled curtains of a certain bookshop in Soho, between the shelves, on the sofa. 

It is most of all here across this leather bag of books, on the ruined mountainous heap of previously hallowed ground. There is a statue on fire behind him, ivory hair painted fire-gold, guiding the eyes away— a bit of misdirection. 

Aziraphale is saying something— something about kindness. Something that doesn’t quite get parsed out in Crowley’s head but still manages to light up the auditory hair cells in his ears, tickle all the way down his spine, sit squarely somewhere in his hips. 

Crowley straightens up, tries to clean off his glasses, get them back on.

“Shut up,” he just says, the curtains are still open. The audience is still watching.

“Oh, the books,” Aziraphale is saying, despondent, and Crowley pulls on his glasses, tries to swallow his smile, “they’ll all be blown to—“

That leather handle is in his hand and the heft of books is too.

“Little demonic miracle of my own,” he says, and does not miss the way that Aziraphale looks at him in suspended wonder, his eyes wide. He does not miss how their fingers kiss across those old books in that old bag— that familiar magnetic attraction of their skin— close enough at last to spark. The current closing between them. A bit of Faraday’s law. Now you see it.

He releases the bag into Aziraphale’s grip, steps away. 

Now you don’t.

“Lift home?”

There is fire in his veins, more than usual, because Aziraphale is outlined in flame and had thanked him, thanked him. In his own off-handed way, for saving the books and maybe his life too. And that’s enough, Crowley thinks, enough to tide him over for a few more decades.

But still, something about it stings. 

It isn’t the cold air or the airborne dust. It had not been the spilled holy water— the thing he wants perhaps second most to Aziraphale— or the weaponized flecks of church shrapnel that bounced off his skin. It had not even been the persistent sizzling of the consecrated ground working its way up through his shoes, turning the marrow in his bones to liquid fire.

He had heard things, of course he had. He had heard, long ago, about the Thule Society and their greedy thirst for any bit of western esotericism that fit their narrative. Narratives that watered the seeds of the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. That name-stealing bastard Aleister walking along the fringes of it, stoking the fire. A Cistercian monk named Liebenfels pumping out magazines that straddled occultism and racial-purity. Magic ritual as politics. The Völkisch movement. Blood and soil. 

He had heard, for instance, that the Nazis were desperately after certain books. Books of prophecy. Books of magic. He had heard that Hitler himself had gotten his ear bent around Madame Blavatsky’s old philosophies and had been furiously digging through every library and book seller in Europe-- looking through titles for ones to keep and burning the ones he didn’t. Collections of Robert Nixon, first edition Mother Shiptons, old issues of Ostara magazine, anything by Guido von List. 

Which is how he knew, of course, that they would come looking for Aziraphale.

It is why he had gotten himself tied up in the espionage game in the first place. British counterintelligence. Nights held down in Pressbaum. Joining the Ordo Novi Templi. Brushing up on Hermetic Qabalah.

Of course Harmony had recognized him. Greta too. It had been difficult to miss her doe-eyes fawning over him from the back of those conference halls, mooning over presentations on runic lore. 

But what he doesn’t know, even now, is why Aziraphale had said exactly nothing to him about any of it. And that, Crowley supposes, is what stings the most. 

The ride home is starched with a stiffening silence, the edges of it so sharp Crowley doesn’t even want to think about being the first to break it, afraid he might cut himself and start bleeding all over, bleed out. 

He is used to this by now— of course he is. He is used to containing the spill of himself, of not getting Aziraphale wet with the overflow. Not anymore. He is accustomed of course to saying the word love love love over and over again in repetitious harmonies, woven into everything, without saying anything at all. He is accustomed to getting nothing back but echoes of his own voice, shouting into what he realizes is perhaps an empty cave. 

Doesn’t matter. Do it anyway. Get nothing back. 

Now you see it. 

He grips the edge of the steering wheel with a bruising intensity, files his back teeth together. 

And then he lets go, releases, like he always does. Breathes it in. Breathes it out. 

Now you don’t.

Because he knows now better than ever before that they are not native speakers of the same mother tongue. Original stock be damned. They speak something else, some other animal call— some fluid reimagining of language that is layered to the point that they are saying two things at once— always— another magic trick they can perform together. A body sawed in half on stage. Two women in the same box. A head out one end and legs out the other. The woman with her head in the box incapable of hearing and the woman bisected at the hips yelling at her anyway. 

The angel is sitting, somewhat white-knuckled, next to him, gripping onto the handle of that old leather bag and chewing at his lip. Crowley can tell he is about to say something, probably something like, eyes on the road, Crowley; or, you cannot go this speed at this hour you will wake up babies; or, I know you can see in the dark but please turn on your lights. 

But he does not say any of those things. And instead there is a quiet: “How did you know where to find me?”

Because you are the world and I am the thing that orbits you.

“Space rock,” he says, and bites down on the side of his cheek.

“Space— what?” Aziraphale turns and looks at him, his eyebrows nearly kissing. 

“Space rock. It’s—“ he waves his hand and can tell even without looking the way Aziraphale swallows back the admonition: hands on the wheel.

“It’s nothing,” he finishes. 

Aziraphale’s eyes are blue, gray, gold as they shift endlessly under the moving lamplights, the glow of wet pavement. 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Crowley says, quietly even though they are alone in this car. It is a habit that he is finding harder and harder to break— the inability to be himself around Aziraphale even in private— always zipped up, on alert, under the table. Palm the card you want to hide in your left hand and brandish the one you don’t in your right. 

“Tell you?” 

“Tell me that you were dealing with the Nazis,” his words are hot, sharp, and he feels a stab of regret as soon as he speaks them. 

“I— I don’t know, really. I figured that… well you’ve been so busy and we haven’t seen each other in… in a while,” he is looking down at his hands and at the bag and the air is stretched so thin between them it feels like it’s going to snap. “I thought I could handle this.”

There is something unspoken that hovers there at the end of his sentence. Something that feels a lot like, I never expected to be betrayed.

And maybe that’s his flaw, Crowley thinks, that the angel is a bit naive, even after all this time, that he is incapable of reading intent underneath action. 

Like that I love you underneath all these touches.

“We have to communicate better, Aziraphale,” he says, and does not look at him.

Aziraphale looks studiously out the passenger window, avoids his eyes. 

“I know,” he says finally, softly, “I should have told you, alright? Is that what you need to hear?”

They are at the bookshop and Crowley wonders how they got here so quickly. Had he even been paying attention to the drive? How many lights did he miss, how many stop signs did he blow through?

He turns and looks at him, Aziraphale looking like he wants to jump out of the window, run inside and slam the door shut. 

“Just,” there is that lump in his throat and he tries to pull words up out around it, “just looking out for you.” 

He tries to say something like an apology but it commits suicide in his throat around that lump, strangling itself dead. 

Aziraphale turns his head, looks over at him across the scattered moonlight on the dash, the filtered street glow. 

“Say it again,” Aziraphale says.

“Say what?”

There is a shine on his eyes like glass, like deep water.

Home.

Crowley glances behind Aziraphale’s head to the familiar red pillars of the bookshop facade, the glass with that incorrect name stamped on it. He can see their reflection there, through the window, through the car, can see his dark hat and the white loveliness of Aziraphale’s shoulders. 

He swallows and meets his eyes, takes off the sunglasses. Now you see it. 

“Home,” he says, “Angel, come on, you’re home.”

 


 

He is taking them out of the bag. 

One at a time, fingers brushing over the bindings, the spines, the cover plates. There are little ex libros embossings on the first page of some of them, sometimes decorated with tiny books themselves, metallic filigree, flowery flourishes. 

“Are they okay?” Crowley asks, standing in the entryway to the backroom like a coat rack, his shoulders feeling skinny under his jacket. The bottom of his feet feel crisped beyond recognition, like he is standing on a something that isn’t quite skin anymore. 

“They are,” Aziraphale says softly, not looking up. 

Crowley lets out a breath, his shoulders dropping. 

“Oh. Good. I wasn’t quite sure— thought maybe I messed things up.”

Aziraphale says nothing, his eyes still wet and deep, looking down.

Crowley swallows and tries to make it to the sofa without Aziraphale looking up at him, tries to hide the way he walks like the ground here is consecrated too. 

He makes it about half-way, somewhere in the middle of the parquet floor, before he sucks in what is an unmistakably painful breath. 

He didn’t mean too— but there’s nothing here across this ocean of floor to the couch, nothing to lean on, no pew to brace against, no bookshelf to crutch himself on. 

Aziraphale looks up, finally, blinking at him trying to make it to the sofa like a man who has forgotten how to walk. 

“What are you—“ he starts, and then stops, following him down with his eyes as Crowley sits on the floor, breathing between his teeth. 

“I’m okay,” Crowley hears himself saying, “I’m fine. Just— something in my shoe, I think. A bit of rubble. Some church dust.”

There is church dust, he realizes, all over him, stinging just the slightest bit. It is coating the tip of his naked ear and he brushes that faint humming burn away with the back of his hand. 

“It— oh, it still burns?”

“Nah,” he says, chewing a bit on the inside of his cheek, pretending to fish around in his shoe for the inexistent stone. 

He tries to pull his legs underneath of him, stand on those scorched feet again. 

But before he can get very far there are hands behind his back, cupping up under his knees. He has not been touched like this in years, not since— he shakes his head, scrambling up the memory, trying to ignore how the marrow of his bones is on fire for a very different reason. 

“It still burns,” Aziraphale says flatly, hefting him easily in his arms.

“It really doesn’t,” Crowley chokes out, “I’m fine.”

“You know for a demon you are quite a dreadful liar.”

Aziraphale lowers him to the couch, sinks to his knees in front of him on the floor. 

“Show me,” he says, turning his gaze to meet Crowley’s for the first time since they came inside.

Crowley swallows, reaches down to tug at his shoes.

“It just sort of tingles,” he says, and he does not miss the way his tongue forks a bit when he says it. 

Aziraphale pulls them off the rest of the way, rolls down the black socks. Those hands are gentle on his ankle bones, lifting them to look at the bottom of his feet. 

Aziraphale closes his eyes and sighs, his shoulders dropping. He opens them to stare at the pink and shiny heel of what is obviously burned skin. 

“This looks dreadful,” he says quietly, “probably second-degree. You should not have gone in that church, Crowley.”

Crowley tries to pull his foot away, sucks at his teeth. 

“What was I going to do,” he starts, struggling against the hand that is holding his ankle, “let you get shot by Nazis? Bombed by my own demonic intervention?”

“You could’ve let them shoot me,” he is saying, palpating a thumb around the edge of the burnt skin, checking for blisters, “I could have gotten myself outside and you could’ve removed the bullet. I could’ve healed myself up.”

“Believe me when I say that I would rather blow up a hundred churches than have to dig around your insides for a bullet again,” Crowley says, sucking in air around his teeth. 

“I have an analgesic upstairs, to help with the pain,” Aziraphale says, ignoring him, “I’m afraid there isn’t much to do for burns other than cool down the skin and let them heal.”

He is standing up, brushing at the front of his waistcoat.

“Stay put,” he says, “and keep them off the floor.”

He disappears somewhere behind a bookshelf, back to that tiny kitchenette, and then returns a moment later, basin in hand. 

“Let me roll these up,” he is saying, that porcelain basin set in front of him, those hands reaching already for Crowley’s ankles— rolling up the hems, guiding them into the cold water. 

He hisses as they sink in, molds himself back into the sofa. 

“Is it okay?” Aziraphale is looking up at him with worry in his eyes, his hands still firm around his ankles.

“It’s okay,” Crowley breathes out, through his teeth, “feels good actually.”

“That’s good,” Aziraphale says, and Crowley can feel his thumb rubbing tiny circles into the bone there. 

Crowley considers him for a second, considers the narrow hitch of his shoulders, as if he is nervous, considers the strong set of his jaw. 

There are still air raid sirens broadcasting across London, the rattle of the blitz vibrating the windows.

“Did you ever think this would happen again?” Aziraphale is asking, staring down at his feet, at the water they are dipped in. 

“What?” Crowley asks, looking down at those white curls, the backs of his ears. 

“Another world war. More poison gas. More flamethrowers.”

He can see the stress come out of his shoulders, can see them drop along with his face. 

Crowley looks outside to that night sky— can see the fluorescence of refracted electric light held suspended in all that airborne dust, the searchlights cutting through the dark.

“I hoped it wouldn’t,” he says, looking away from the window, “I guess I knew it was a possibility but I hoped it wouldn’t.”

“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale says, “for thinking that you had anything to do with the Nazis.”

He says it so easily, like it’s nothing, like apologies can just flow like water from a tap. 

“It’s fine,” Crowley says, his throat feeling suddenly tight, “don’t fret.”

“No, really I—“ Aziraphale is squeezing his ankles a bit tightly, worrying at his bottom lip, “I shouldn’t have said that. I just— I haven’t—“ he takes a deep breath, the shoulders up around his ears again, “where have you been?”

The sound of the air raid sirens is unnerving, spiking his heart rate.

“Austria,” he says, “Pressbaum. And then Hungary, Germany too.”

“Is that how they knew you?” He turns those gray eyes on him in the dim light, and Crowley can see the ache there, the inability to understand where Crowley has been for all this time and why he hadn’t told him about it. A mirror to his own frustrations. The familiar dance. Two women in the same box, sawed in half at the hips. 

“How long has it been?” Crowley can hear himself asking, ignoring Aziraphale’s question.

“Six years.”

Six years apart— six years in the German underbelly, six years of Hitler Youth haircuts and Hugo Boss jackets. Six years of espionage. He used to think it was better. Better than being on the front lines, better than taking bullets in the hip, barbed wire to the arms. 

“That’s quite a long time,” Aziraphale says softly, his thumbs pressing circles against his ankle bones again. 

But it isn’t better, he knows. 

He finds his own reflection in those watercolor eyes, and he knows that the price of admission for Aziraphale’s intimacy— the bullets and the chlorine gas and the nights in soggy trenches— is worth it. Worth it to trudge back to him every time, let Aziraphale find the new and terrible holes that have been punctured into him, let him seal them shut. 

“Too long,” Crowley says quietly, maneuvering around the inexplicable tightness in his throat. 

Aziraphale looks up, finds Crowley’s eyes looking down on him. Then he narrows his gaze, scanning over the gray flecks of a ruined church sitting on his clothes, his hair, his cheeks. 

Crowley brushes at the dust on his face, the very smallest tingling of consecrated ground refined into weaponized nano-particles. Just barely burning. 

“Does the dust burn too?”

Crowley tries very hard not to brush away at the bit that is on his forehead, that fine, nearly invisible coating. 

“Barely. It’s nothing really.”

The line of Aziraphale’s mouth hardens into a grim set, his eyes scanning over the layer of dust on him, everywhere. 

“We should clean it off of you,” he says, and Crowley can see that there is something else underneath the hitched up shoulders, underneath the stiff relearning of how to be together again. Like muscles that haven’t been used in six years, breaking the crust of atrophy, feet that have fallen asleep.

Crowley licks his dry lips, knowing what that means. 

“It’s not so bad,” he says quietly.

Lead you not into temptation, he reminds himself, and closes his eyes.  

But Aziraphale is standing, wedging a hand underneath his knees on the sofa, pulling him close to his chest. 

“Come on,” he says, as Crowley puts an arm around his shoulders, knowing how this is going to go and trying to find it within himself to be upset about it, “let’s clean you up.”

“Angel, I swear, it’s not terrible.”

But he lets himself be lifted anyway, lets those deceptively strong arms crush him up against that chest, lets his head drift over to pillow on that shoulder. 

“Bad liar,” is all Aziraphale says, hitching him up higher in his arms. 

“Where are you taking me?” He asks, and knows better than to squirm. 

Aziraphale is walking away from the couch, out of the backroom. 

He knows, of course, where he is taking him. He is taking him to that place where they have been before, so many times, that place that Crowley can smell in his dreams.

He can smell it now even— the sudden influx of humidity in that tiny upstairs bedroom, Aziraphale having pulled some miracle down while carrying him. 

“You know where,” Aziraphale says, taking the stairs easily. 

There is dust on Aziraphale’s jacket too and it sings along the nerves of his cheek as it presses there. But he does not pull away, no matter how bad it gets, no matter how it pulses with each of Aziraphale’s footfalls up that wide staircase. 

It looks the same— it always does— no matter how often Aziraphale changes the towels, adds more soaps, gathers new bathrobes. The honeycomb tile is the same, has been for decades, the stretch of peeling paint in the ceiling corner hanging only slightly lower. 

There’s a response that thrums up from this space and echoes in his bones, his heart, his blood. It redirects the currents of his fluids, all of them, pulls and pushes until his heart is too loud in his ears, certain parts of him stiffening and other parts softening. 

“Okay,” Aziraphale says quietly, lowering him to sit on that little three-legged stool in the dark, “lights off or on?” 

He doesn’t miss the hitch in his voice when he says it, something still stretched between them. 

Crowley licks his lips, considering him there in the dark, the wet shine of his eyes as they blink and try to adjust to the dim light. 

He digs his fingernails into his palm, knowing that Aziraphale probably prefers the dark, prefers to not see him, all of him, certainly not now. But he wants to be seen, just this once. 

“On,” he says, and he is surprised to hear Aziraphale let out a relieved breath.

“Oh good,” he says, “I was hoping you’d say that.”

His legs are too long for this bathroom, spread out at full length, balanced on his heel.

“Don’t put your feet on the floor,” Aziraphale is saying, “keep them up.”

There are hands at his collar, pushing off the jacket.

“Ridiculous,” he is muttering, threading it off his arms.

“What is?” Crowley breathes, looking down at those square fingers deftly unbuttoning his shirt. 

You. Entering a church,” he says quietly, forcefully. 

“No choice,” Crowley forces back, just as quiet, catching the way those fingers stutter over the top button. 

“You had a choice,” Aziraphale is whispering, as if the lights in the room are watching them, on stage, now you see it. 

“I didn’t,” Crowley presses, the air shallow in his lungs.

There is something to the way that their shared breath is combining in this room, mixing with the humidity of bathwater. Something transformative, hot.

“I won’t let you get shot,” Crowley says, and then quieter, “not again.”

Aziraphale’s hands pause amidst the buttons, nearly down to the last one. And then those color-shift eyes look up into his, their faces so very close together, that familiar spark arcing between their shared airspace, some magnetic pull of their lips. 

Space rock, Crowley thinks, his heartbeat rocking him back and forth with the strength of its rhythm. 

And then Aziraphale pulls his eyes away, finishes the last button, Faraday’s law closing. Now you don’t. 

He can breathe again, the air still humid but not quite as solid as it had been a moment ago. 

He can see Aziraphale swallow as he pulls off the shirt, can see the way his eyes catch on the lightning marks of white scars across his skin— a bullet hole here, the cauterization scar there, the asymmetrical imprint a bit of barbed wire had left at some point that he had barely noticed. 

He wishes the lights were off. 

“You’ll need to keep your feet out,” Aziraphale is saying, ignoring, as he often does, the previous conversation and its intensity, “hang them over the edge.”

“That sounds difficult.”

Aziraphale’s hands are at the zipper of his pants, pulling them down with the uniformed precision of someone who has removed thousands of articles of clothing from much more wounded men than he. 

“I’ll show you what I mean,” he says, and threads those trousers down and off his feet.

He isn’t sure he will ever get used to it— the way Aziraphale can move him like he weighs little more than that bag of old books, the way he can pluck him from the earth like a weed, stick him in a vase of water, see how long he lasts. 

He glances to the light switch and it slides itself down, off, blanketing them in darkness.

“Oh,” Aziraphale says, his head swiveling around to stare at the switch, “did you do that?”

“Sorry,” he starts, trying to form words in his mouth, “six years,” he says, by way of explanation.

Six years since they have been together, six years since Aziraphale has seen him, touched his skin. The familiarity of intimacy burns off, it seems, boils down. 

His skin prickles where it meets the air. Or perhaps it is just that church dust, settling down into skin without fabric in the way. 

“Six years,” Aziraphale says too, and together they remove the last of his clothing. 

“I should’ve told you,” Crowley says quietly, “I don’t know why I didn’t.”

“I should have too,” Aziraphale says, and something in the way he lifts him— those arms under his knees, under his shoulders— reconstitutes a bit of that boiled down intimacy, deglazes the burnt bits. 

“Like this,” he says, and perches him on that porcelain edge, “hands here,” and guides one across the span of hot water, “now down.” 

Feet out, ankles in Aziraphale’s steady hands, in the dark. Now down under the hot water, knees hooked over the edges.

“That wasn’t so bad,” Crowley says, “easier than I thought.”

Aziraphale is feeling along the sink in the dark for what Crowley assumes is one of the many bars of soap perched there.

“To your right,” he says, watching him.

“Thanks,” Aziraphale breathes, handing one out to him, “now scrub.”

“What?”

Scrub,” he says again, insistent, and sinks to his knees next to him.

There are a pair of hands on his arm, pulling it up out of the water, probably getting the edges of his shirt wet. 

Those hands are rubbing that bar of soap into his skin, perhaps a bit more roughly than necessary.

He watches him from beneath his eyelashes, across the span of darkness, can see how Aziraphale closes his eyes and rubs the soap along every inch of him, the way he blinks them open again, holds his breath.

“Angel,” he reaches over and stills the furious scrubbing.

“What?” Aziraphale says, blinking up into his face.

“What are you doing?” He asks quietly.

“I just—“ he inhales unsteadily, eyes darting away in the dark, “I want to get the church off of you.”

Water, Crowley thinks, you’re thinking about holy water.

“I did it for you,” Crowley whispers, as those hands start scrubbing at him again, along his shoulder, his neck, the basin of his collarbones. 

The motion stops, restarts.

“After I stopped that bit of book burning and cleared out the libraries. Took all the first editions.”

It had taken months, maybe a full year— up all night digging through libraries and bookshops, removing any important book he could find and shipping them off here. There is a pallet of them downstairs, he knows, still lovingly wrapped, hidden beneath the stairs. 

“I knew that they’d come after you.”

It is so much easier to talk in the dark— with the lights off and the curtain closed. The woman in the box perhaps finding an opening, letting her head hang out. The audience long since gone home.  

“That they’d want your books.”

He is whispering and it gets lost in the sound of soap on his skin, Aziraphale scrubbing up under his jaw, tilting his face and washing along the bones of his cheeks, the orbital ridge.

“I had to try and stop them,” he closes his eyes and lets Aziraphale wipe smooth fingers along his forehead, tilt his head back and pour water from a pitcher down his hair, across his spine. 

“I tried to lead them away. Maybe give them enough occult knowledge to convince them they didn’t need the books.”

It is remarkably difficult to stop talking. The dam lifted.

“But they’re fucking awful. They just want and want and want everything. Nothing is ever enough for them.”

He gasps as Aziraphale’s fingers dip into his ears, rub soap into the cropped hair. 

“So I had to figure out when they were coming for you— and Greta. Fucking Greta. I overheard her talking about this bookseller she had found. In London. How he had all these rare titles that no one had. How she convinced him that she was part of British intelligence.”

The rhythm of those fingers stop for a moment, stutter.

“Do you know?” He whispers, and lets Aziraphale tilt his head back again, fingers strong under his jaw. “Do you know how fucking hard it was to not incinerate her?” He swallows and there is that lump in his throat again, that remembered violence. 

“I had to just go along with it. Pretend I didn’t hear it. Mastermen would have skinned me alive. Hell would have too.”

There is a small noise in Aziraphale’s throat, perhaps there is a lump there too.  

“Why Anthony?” 

Aziraphale has not spoken for what seems like hours. 

“I needed a first name,” Crowley says, opening his eyes to find Aziraphale’s in the dark, “they asked for a name and I had that terrible nursery rhyme in my head at the time.”

“Nursery rhyme?”

“You know, the one about the frog.” 

Aziraphale is blinking at him across the darkness.

“You must be joking.”

He can feel his cheeks flush. 

“I never said I was good at improv.”

“Must’ve been tough to be a spy then.”

There is something like a smile on Aziraphale’s mouth, a small one.

“You’d be amazed what dark glasses do for an air of mystery. Nazis are all about aesthetics.”

“Give me your other arm,” Aziraphale just says, scrubbing again.

He works at the fingernails first, running his thumbnail underneath, around the cuticles, removing any bit of church.

“I like the way you say it,” Crowley whispers.

He is rubbing at his forearm, the elbow, the indent near the bone. 

“Say what?”

Crowley watches as he reaches up to his other shoulder, down along his chest, over his heart.

“My name.”

Aziraphale stops, finds his eyes.

There are heartbeats and entire oceans of time between them— stretched out, stretched thin. How many times have they been in this bathroom? How many times have they so carefully not said the things that they are feeling? Not put a name to this incalculable attraction that pulses between them? Whether it is love or not love, Crowley does not care. He will take whatever bit of leftover crumb Aziraphale leaves for him, will take the stale remnants of temptations he does not intend to perform. 

“I think we should get you out,” Aziraphale says, and there’s heat there, even in the dark. 

“Yes,” Crowley breathes, his heart still too loud in his chest, “I think we should.”

 


 

“Do they hurt?”

Aziraphale has stacked pillows underneath his calves, elevating his feet up into the air.

“Angel, this is ridiculous.”

Do they hurt?” He asks again, fussing with the height.

No,” Crowley sighs, leaning back against the headboard, “Not at all.”

“They look terrible,” Aziraphale says.

“Then don’t look at them.”

Aziraphale is sitting next to his hips, his hands squeezing in his lap. He wants to fuss with something, Crowley can tell. Wants to do something other than face this moment, something other than move forward. 

Aziraphale is good at being still, at being slow. He moves through time like an unchanging planet, a steady constant that has been here for a millennia and would remain here for a few million more. 

“Tell me about here,” Crowley says, “about London. While I was gone.”

Aziraphale looks at him, lying on his bed with a towel around his waist, a blanket hitched up around his shoulders. 

“There was a fire,” he says quietly, “the biggest one since 1666.”

There is something small about how he looks here, outlined by the city outside his window, the searchlights still scanning the lightening sky. 

“I helped out with the hospitals again.”

He hates burns. Crowley knows he does, can tell by the way he talks about flamethrowers, by the way he fusses now over his burnt feet. And maybe he’s reading too much into it, maybe it isn’t this at all— but Crowley likes to think that at least a small part of it has to do with him, has to do with his free-fall into boiling sulphur. 

“They opened up the draft and—“

Aziraphale’s voice hitches in his throat, gets caught there. 

“The boys signing up— men,” he corrects himself, “they look so young. It just reminds me of— of…”

“I know,” Crowley says, and finds his hand there in his lap, “it’s like before. All over again.” 

History repeating, he thinks. And he wants to speed ahead— move along. Go faster along the tracks of time until they are at some place where this won’t keep repeating indefinitely. Where this war that is so much like the last one is gone and behind them and maybe there— in that bright and hopeful future, they will be able to speak the same language, kiss on the sidewalk like humans do. Pull the curtain back. Reveal the whole damned trick to the entire damned audience. 

“I should have been here,” Crowley is saying.

“No,” Aziraphale says, looking down at their hands together on the bed, “you had work to do.”

“I missed you.”

He says it without realizing it, without really meaning to. Doesn’t matter. Do it anyway. Get nothing back.

He knows how this will go. He knows how Aziraphale will pull back now, how he will stuff a hand over his mouth, maybe look up towards the ceiling. Shuffle them off to do something benign together, something safe that does not include the discussion of things like emotion, of things like what exactly they are and what exactly they do together. 

But Aziraphale doesn’t pull back, not this time, their hands still jumbled together at the fingers, the knuckles twisted. Now you see it. 

And then he’s pulling that hand back to untwist their knots, only to reach it forward again— to reach forward and yank that towel open, lay him out naked. 

Angel,” he says, shocked into near stillness. 

Aziraphale says nothing, nothing, just pushes his thigh down and out of the way, hands reaching desperately for his skin, smoothing between the valley of his hipbones. He is leaning over him, pressing kisses into that old entry wound at his hip, into the junction of thigh and torso, up beneath his navel. 

The air is so thick with humidity and want that it is hard to pull into his lungs, hard to sate the greedy pounding of his heart, the suction of veins, a pulse that is furious with desire.

Don’t, he thinks, and closes his eyes, squeezes his hands into fists. He tries to imagine that he is not tempting Aziraphale to do anything that he doesn’t want to do on his own, tries to understand that nudity itself, even his, is not inherently immoral.

He is hard already, even with Aziraphale fully clothed— those pale trousers tenting up around the heat of his own desire. And it’s enough, again, to just have that— to just know that Aziraphale wants him in some capacity, even if it’s just for sex. He can live with that. He can survive that. 

What a cross to bear, he thinks, as Aziraphale’s mouth presses hot kisses into his skin, how ever will I survive this.

“I missed you so fucking much,” he can hear himself saying it and doesn’t know where the words come from— not from his brain and not from his throat. They pull up from someplace deeper, somewhere in the center of him, somewhere underneath the bone. His own words hit him like a bullet to the chest— stopping time, restarting it again— an admission that fills his veins with some familiar electric heat. Fear and adrenaline in equal pulsing measures. 

“I used to think of you every night,” he says, and Aziraphale is saying nothing and saying everything all at once, pressing his face against his skin, pushing kisses into his cock. 

“I used to look out across the city at night and— and— there was a church there.” 

He is in Aziraphale’s hand and it is better— so much better than how he had remembered it, how he tried to imitate it.

“Do you even know,” he gasps, and Aziraphale’s mouth is lathing kisses into the tip of him, tongue darting out to gather the salt of him, “what it’s like—“

The sentence gets bitten off by the animal sound that rips out around it, that neat mouth closing around him, sucking him down. 

“—to,” he gasps again, back arching, head pressed back into those pillows, that awful tartan pattern, “—to jerk off looking at a church?” 

There is something like a laugh in Aziraphale’s throat, vibrating against him and he can not help the disbelieving sounds that are coming out of his mouth, the flex of his fingers suddenly in Aziraphale’s hair, on his shoulder. 

There’s movement there on the bed, between Aziraphale’s clothed legs, a hand tugging at his pants. 

“Oh fuck, angel— are you— are you?”

It is unmistakeable— the angel’s hand is there around his own cock, pulled through the fly of his pants, moving up and down. 

“Holy fuck. Oh, shit. Oh fuck. You’re really doing it aren’t you?”

Aziraphale pulls his mouth away to pin him with a frustrated glare, something flat and dangerous in his eyes. 

“Crowley,” he breathes, his lips swollen, “stop talking.”

Fuck, yes,” he moans, head falling back, “tell me what to do.”

Aziraphale presses a kiss to the tip of him, sucks against the slit and the pearls of liquid beading there. 

“That was not a suggestion.”

Crowley opens his eyes to stare sightlessly at that ceiling, at those searchlights out across the city. 

Home, he thinks, and remembers Aziraphale asking for him to say it, again, say it— home. I’m home. 

“Oh fuck, angel,” his mouth is so dry and he is panting into that humid room, Aziraphale pulling pleasure up through his bones, from some reservoir that he thought he had depleted. So many nights fucking his own fist, trying to hold onto memories that slid like desert sand through his fingers. 

“I’m so close,” he says, squeezing his eyes shut, “is it okay? Please. Tell me it’s okay.”

The mouth pulls back, kisses at the slit, follows along the vein on his underside.

“It’s okay,” he whispers against the wet skin, and takes him back in his mouth. 

I love you, he wants to say, and bites his tongue until it bleeds. It hurts me. I love you. Please know this.

He tries not to squeeze too tight— tries not to fist those white curls too hard or dig his fingers into that strong shoulder, tries not to rip the seams of Aziraphale’s beloved clothes. There is a silent moment of completeness, every muscle squeezing tight, and then heat against the outside of his thigh, Aziraphale choking down the whimpered sounds of his own release around Crowley in his mouth.

He opens his eyes again and can taste the iron salt of blood in his mouth, on his incisors. 

“Thank you,” he says, to that ceiling, to those pillows, to anything that will listen. 

Aziraphale presses his forehead against Crowley’s thigh, breathes in, breathes out, clears his throat. 

“Would you like some tea?” He asks, apropos of nothing. 

Now you don’t. 

There is a twist of something a lot like pain in his chest, at the banality of it all. But he is used to it by now. He comes to expect it— put the rabbit back in the hat, hide it behind the curtain, push that woman back in her box.  

“Sure,” he says around the tightness in his throat, the strange prickling feeling in the corner of his eyes, “that’d be lovely.” 

“Okay,” Aziraphale is saying, the musicality of his voice a bit dampened, his throat sore perhaps from swallowing so much Crowley, “I’ll be back in a moment.

There is a bit of Aziraphale on the outside of his thigh, his hip. Crowley reaches a finger down, pulls the shine of it across his skin, lifts it to his lips. 

It is salt and sunshine in his mouth, marrying the blood there. Magic ritual. Blood and soil. 

He closes his eyes again, exhales into the empty room. 

There is the promise of dawn along the skyline, maybe not for a few hours yet, the sky blushing the faintest bit pink. 

The curtain is going to open again soon, the audience back in their seats. He will crawl back into the box. Get bisected at the hips. 

He looks down at the stretch of his body on the bed. The spent cock, the unspent heart. Maybe he already has been. 

Aziraphale is coming back up the stairs with tea cups in his hands. He can smell the hot liquid, the oxidized Camellia sinensis. 

He covers up his lower half, rearranges his ankles to the proper elevated height Aziraphale had decided upon, smoothes the mask back on his face. 

Blink and you’ll miss it. 

It’s there in the palming, the passing of pots of tea. 

Now you see it— Aziraphale’s fingers graze his as he hands over the tea cup, pull back as he gives it away. 

Now you don’t.