AN EQUITABLE ARRANGEMENT

Thanks for the birthday wishes. It's quarantine; what's a posting schedule when days of the week have no meaning?

On with the story!


CHAPTER 10: Blindsided


"Parley?" Aziraphale repeated, his brows knit with confusion.

The last time one of them had thrown out that word, Crowley had been ready to disappear to who-knew-where for who-knew-how-long. The demon looked far too comfortable on the sofa to storm out, but that meant nothing if Crowley really was offended. Had Aziraphale offended him? Was it the incessant giggling? Had he touched Crowley's back in an unforgivable way? Humans could be like that with certain parts of their bodies being touchable while adjacent areas were forbidden. "Did I do something wrong?" He started to curl away.

"What? You, wrong? No!" It had never occurred to Crowley that the angel could do something wrong. Foolish and exasperating and entirely too naive about the actions and intentions of others, but never wrong. He chose his next words carefully. "No, just, I had fun too, and that's not something a former demon can easily admit."

Aziraphale smiled. It started as a faint curl of the lips and ended with him positively beaming.

"Former demon," Aziraphale mused before turning thoughtful. "Does that make me a former angel?" He had never thought of it in such stark terms. The term 'rogue angel' sounded less damned.

"I don't imagine Heaven or Hell wants much to do with either of us now," Crowley reminded him. "There was that attempted double execution with holy water and hell fire."

"Ah," said Aziraphale as the recollections came back, clouding his present happiness. He had not fallen exactly, not like Crowley, but he was not currently in Heaven's good books and with no clear path to return. At least God Herself had not rejected him although She remained steadily distant. "Yes, we're on our own side now, as I recall."

Crowley smiled at those words. That was exactly the point he wanted to make: their own side. There was no need to impose an arbitrary distance or coolness in their relationship; everyone knew of it, or at least knew enough to guess the rest, perhaps guessing far more than was present reality. Plausible deniability was no longer available to them and they would succeed or fail together regardless of whether that togetherness was superficial or profound. Deciding that he was not drunk enough to dither on the thought for long, he leaned over and quickly pressed his lips to Aziraphale's cheek. The point was merely to kiss him, not make a grand declaration out of it, just to establish the idea that they could build on.

Aziraphale's face was terribly expressive. The surprise at the gesture was soon supplanted by the disbelief that he had indeed been kissed. Then of course came the fear that someone would find out, the pain of having to chastise Crowley for doing something like that. What would Gabriel say if Heaven found out? What would Hastur do if Hell caught wind of this?

The realization that Heaven and Hell had no say in the matter anymore broke across his face like a stormy dawn. Habit demanded attention, insisted on obedience, and denied the new truth. But he already lived under the same roof as the demon, went everywhere with him, had been seen publicly holding hands like a human couple. They had spent the night dancing and were currently snuggled up together on the sofa. What more was a kiss compared to all the other acts of betrayal against their former sides?

Seeing Aziraphale's brow smooth at last, Crowley pressed another kiss into the angel's cheek, just as chaste and brief as the first.

"Why did you do that?" asked Aziraphale, confused by the repeated action.

Crowley shrugged, the picture of nonchalance. "It's a kiss, Angel. A human gesture. We're supposed to be in a relationship, holding hands and whatnot. I thought I'd try it out," he said, adding in a soft voice, "I can stop if it bothers you."

The angel's lips pouted as if he was trying to find the least hurtful way to say something. Finally, he just blurted out, "I don't think you're doing it right."

Crowley stared at him and blinked. "Come again?"

"It's just," he began, then set down his glass before his flapping hands spilled the wine, "that was the sort of kiss you'd give to a parent or grandparent, not someone you are supposedly dating. Kiss me like that in public and people will start thinking you're my nurse all over again."

There was an inexplicable whine in Crowley's ear after he processed those words. It only ended when the demon shut his gaping mouth.

"How?" he said, ashamed at how unsteady he sounded. "How do you want me to kiss you?"

Aziraphale's eyes went comically round at the question. He sputtered. "I'm not, I'm not saying I want… I've just, I've never considered… You cannot possibly expect me to answer that sort of question right now!"

"You've never considered anything past the holding-hands stage of this veneer of a relationship?" The question sounded especially wrenching when Crowley spoke it aloud, and the angel's reaction would be comical if it wasn't so important to the demon.

"I never expected you to agree to the part about holding hands!" Aziraphale shot back before he could curate his words. "If you're going to kiss me, kiss me like you mean it."

"What?" Crowley said because he could not have heard correctly. In case he wasn't clear, he added another, "What?"

Aziraphale shrivelled within himself. "I don't mean it like that!" he announced defensively. "I just mean, if we're going to appear as a couple to humans, then that is the sort of kissing we should do. I'm sure you've noticed that they use different types of kisses to signal different types of affection, haven't you?"

"You did not seriously ask me that," Crowley stated flatly.

"Well, I -"

Crowley pressed a kiss into his cheek that was a blink too long to be perfectly chaste.

"That was a bit too 'spinster aunt' for you," Crowley surmised instead of waiting for Aziraphale to recover his speech. "How about something like this?"

He kissed him squarely on the mouth in a dispassionate gesture of dry, thin lips, his nose bumping into Aziraphale's.

"Crowley!" the angel barked as soon as the demon had pulled away. "If you're not going to take this seriously -"

Throwing caution to the wind, Crowley kissed him before he could say anything else. It was in a different style from the other attempts. His arm, which had been resting on the back of the sofa behind Aziraphale, gripped the angel's shoulder and shifted them so that they were seated less side by side and more chest to chest. His other hand grasped the angel's jumper and he tilted his head so that their mouths fit together better.

Crowley was too busy thinking about his timetable at first to enjoy the kiss. Was it less than a week ago that they had talked about pretending to be a romantic couple to satisfy the human gossips, only on Friday that they had pretended to be on a dinner date? Was it only last night that they had sat side by side on this very sofa while Aziraphale had patted and grasped and cradled his hand? And tonight they were dancing and kissing like he meant it, as if he might mean anything else! This was probably madness. There was no way the angel was accepting of this. At any point, he expected Aziraphale to push him away, to say, "That's enough, Crowley!", to stand up and physically separate them. As much as this was a step forward in their relationship, it would be followed by a good many steps back.

Aziraphale parted his lips slightly; his arm which had been pinned between Crowley and the sofa started to move. Crowley tensed, readying himself for the rejection or protest or exclamation of surprise, a firm shove or possibly a gentle smiting. Aziraphale didn't want to hurt him - and no doubt it wouldn't be very painful - but clearly Crowley had tripped over a line that neither of them intended to cross for a while. A safe and familiar distance needed to be restored.

But there was no rejection. Aziraphale didn't wedge his hand between them for the purpose of pushing Crowley away. Instead, Crowley felt the angel's other hand gripping a fistful of jacket and pulling Crowley closer instead of the opposite direction. Aziraphale made a sound that, had Crowley graded it objectively, resembled a whimper of delight.

Crowley shifted but not much. It was just enough for Aziraphale to free his arm and wrap it around the demon's waist, drawing them closer still. Crowley found the entire situation amazing and unbelievable, but then Aziraphale's hand began to caress its way up his back and his brain just shut down for the night. There was no more thinking, no more weighing and analyzing, no more wondering about what reactions would be. Reactions were happening; they only needed to be observed and even the observations were getting difficult to record when they were happening everywhere at once.

There was the wool stretched across Zira's back, worn soft with age and care, as well as the knit balled in his other fist. There was the tug at Crowley's side, pulling him forward. There were the soft lips forming and reforming against his own, the tease of warmth beyond them, the velvet slide against his tongue. The touch against his back climbing to where his wings were perpetually hiding.

It was Aziraphale's hands on his back that drove him to pull his lips away. The touches were getting to be too much. He was about to manifest his wings, and he didn't think he could deal with doing that in front of Aziraphale right now. That was not how a first kiss was supposed to go.

Crowley discovered that Aziraphale still had his eyes shut, his lips rosy, his expression warm. The demon cleared his throat lightly then said, "Was that the sort of kiss you were expecting?"

Aziraphale fluttered his eyes open and looked at Crowley blankly while the words seeped through. "Oh," he said. It was a slightly nonsensical reply, but he wasn't thinking clearly, so it matched his mood.

The angel had been on Earth for six-thousand-some-odd years. Kissing wasn't a new concept. He had seen it done in many settings by myriad people, in ways that symbolized innocent affection, amorous passion, and even grave betrayal.

As part of his continuing efforts to fit in with the human world, he had engaged in it as the situation warranted. He had kissed Warlock's knee to heal a scrape before Nanny caught them roughhousing in the garden. He had lost count of the times he had kissed hands and cheeks in greeting according to the prevailing customs. Once, he had even pressed a greeting into Crowley's cheek although he had not been brave enough to reach for the other cheek after the demon had stiffened in his embrace. While he had never considered that he would need to kiss more deeply than that, the point was that he had used his lips for this sort of thing before.

However, this was not the same, not even close. It was like comparing cave drawings to the work of a Renaissance master. Had he been thinking clearly, he would have thought the kiss was transformative but as it was he was only coherent enough for a dreamy Oh.

Seeing the angel's expression, Crowley wondered if it was too soon to kiss him again. Winging out on the second kiss didn't seem nearly as mortifying as on the first.

"No?" the demon said, blatantly mishearing. "Well, what about something like this?" He wasted no time in wrapping his arms low around Aziraphale's waist and pulling him into another kiss.

This kiss was different, Aziraphale could tell, although he was too absorbed in the sensations of it to focus on exactly how it was different. His eyes were shut, for one thing; he couldn't use his vision to spot any dissimilarities. There was only touch, but there was a lot of it, and everywhere. There were lips, noses, and chins, obviously. But there were also chests and… legs? Maybe legs, or maybe just hips and a bit of thigh? Definitely not toes. And there were Crowley's arms on his lower back, his hands snaking their way under Aziraphale's jumper, clawing and kneading deliciously.

Then Crowley's lips left his own and began to trail a line of kisses to his jaw, and that was heavenly. With Crowley's hands slowly climbing up Aziraphale's back, and Crowley's lips slowly moving down Aziraphale's neck, the angel couldn't stop a soft sigh.

Crowley answered it with a low growl and a bit of suction.

It was a natural instinct of Aziraphale's corporation to twist and turn to expose more of his neck to Crowley's attentions, to arch his back to allow the demon's hands to inch higher.

It was all wonderful and overwhelming. He had told Crowley to kiss him like he meant it and the demon did not disappoint. In fact, it had surpassed heavenly and was well and truly moved onto a higher level, but what existed beyond Heaven? What kind of angel was he to believe that Heaven was lacking? There was no room for self-chastizement, however, as Crowley moved subtly against him. There was a pressure on his back of wings waiting to be unfurled. It was enough to be there on the sofa while Crowley did blissfully distracting things to him until he couldn't think straight.

Aziraphale's eyes fluttered open in pleasure and he looked upon a blackness more absolute than the one behind his eyelids.

The realization drew him out of the moment and he blinked again. The emptiness never wavered. He could feel Crowley, could hear him, could smell him, but he could not see him or anything at all.

"Crowley," he said, trying to sound calm.

The demon responded by dragging fingers down his back and pressing teeth against the skin of his throat. And it would have felt amazing if Aziraphale wasn't sliding rapidly into a panic. But the world was still black and no amount of blinking was returning color or light into his vision.

"Crowley, stop!" He pushed against Crowley in alarm. "I've gone blind!"


Whatever you may think when the punchline is revealed, let the record show that I'm trying to be funny again. If I tell you that Zira is not blind (he is not blind, he's just looking at something very black) then this isn't a cliff hanger, just a good spot for a chapter break. Let me know what you think, if you want. Or keep lurking silently.