AN EQUITABLE ARRANGEMENT
I don't typically write kissing scenes so that was a bit of a stretch for me. And hopefully the not-a-cliffhanger is resolved to your satisfaction and amusement. Hopefully the whole thing is, because this it: the end. I hope you enjoy it.
CHAPTER 11: Once Bitten
Crowley enjoyed kissing Aziraphale, very much so. Perhaps a little too much. The angel's hands around his waist and up his back had nearly driven him to distraction. It made him forget that he was trying not to go too fast and scare the angel off. Something that he would only describe as an itch to spread his wings began to crawl under his skin.
Rather than waiting for them to pop out unexpectedly, he shifted position, gently knocking Aziraphale's hands away from the sensitive skin on his back. When his wings were safe from accidental touches, he let them unfurl behind him, feathers ruffling silently.
Aziraphale's lips were there for the taking, but so was the pale column of neck. The noises the angel was making - that they were both making - only spurred him onward, his wings curling around them, cocooning them in a private world.
Aziraphale sighed and exposed more of his neck for the tasting. Crowley growled in delight.
"Crowley," came the breathy encouragement and the only thing he wanted to do was sink his teeth into the flesh pressed to his lips. He tightened his hold on the angel, running his fingers across Aziraphale's shirt, feeling the muscles underneath.
Then it went sideways.
"Crowley, stop!" Aziraphale wasn't enjoying this anymore. In fact, he sounded terrified. His hands wedged themselves between their two chests and started to shove Crowley away. "I've gone blind!" the angel exclaimed.
Crowley pulled away, and his wings leaned back with him. "What?" he grunted. Did he hear that correctly - blind?
But as Crowley straightened up, the blindness ended. Aziraphale could see the black void develop a boundary as light pushed in at the periphery. The void took shape and detail: wings, black wings nestling themselves behind Crowley like they belonged there.
"What… Crowley, are your wings out?" Had he panicked over the sight of Crowley's wings?
The black wings folded themselves together more tightly, threatening to disappear completely. "Maybe," he said. There was no point giving an honest answer to a rhetorical question. His wings were on display, of course they were out.
"Why are they out?" asked Aziraphale, his voice sharp from the tail end of fear slithering its way out of his mind. "You never take them out."
Crowley put his wings fully away, out of sight out of mind. "What wings?"
Aziraphale wanted to scold him for scaring him accidentally and for withholding the truth deliberately. "Crowley," he sighed, saying nothing else. Had he been expecting something like this, he wouldn't have jumped to the wrong conclusion and panicked. They would still be pressed against each other, Crowley's lips on his neck, Crowley's hands on his back, his own wings -
"Oh!" the angel exclaimed in epiphany. "I did that to you. Didn't I?"
The demon groaned and looked away. "It's not, I chose, you didn't-"
"I did," Aziraphale said with growing confidence.
Crowley rolled his eyes and pressed his back into the opposite corner of the sofa, not quite certain how to explain this in a way that didn't embarrass himself further.
"You didn't pull my wings out," Crowley grit out, perturbed at having to discuss this at all. "Yes, when you touched my back they wanted to come out. But, no, you didn't make them come out, I let them out." It was important for his dignity to stress that point.
"If it's any consolation," Aziraphale said, patting the demon's knee in comfort, "you were getting close to pulling mine out too. I could feel it, but there was too much going on to focus on that one thing, if you know what I mean."
Crowley looked at him crossly. He wasn't in the mood for sympathy, especially as the angel had absolutely not yanked his wings out.
"But," the angel continued, "I suppose that isn't the sort of display we should do in front of the humans. Wings, you know, would be very difficult to explain these days. It's just a little unseemly."
Now the demon looked hurt, and Aziraphale would be an idiot if he couldn't at least guess as to why.
"So maybe we save that sort of thing for when it's just you and me, hmm?" he offered. "We still need to figure out how to act convincingly and appropriately in front of the humans, but surely we can practice a few more options at home, just to see what comes of it?"
The look on Crowley's face now was indescribable, but Aziraphale could feel his wings itch in reply.
"I mean, not now. That's enough for one night. We can sort it out later," Aziraphale said because it felt like it was his job to say things like that, to slow them down, to encourage moderation. Instead of reaching for Crowley, he reached for his wine glass. "Besides, at the rate we're going, we'll never finish the bottle."
Crowley eventually went upstairs to his bed and Aziraphale turned to his paperwork. He puttered and swept and dusted. He shifted books from one shelf to another. Eventually morning crept closer and he miracled his body into another outfit. Most of his clothes were terribly similar but he changed them daily because his neighbors tended to notice otherwise.
A customer popped in shortly after he opened, a cup of coffee in hand. Thankfully, when he inquired how he might help them, they revealed that they were merely interested in wasting time rather than buying anything. They eyed the bookseller curiously, taking in his vintage attire, but it was nothing more than what he was used to from first-time browsers, and Aziraphale wished them a cheery, "Good morning!" when they left.
Two other customers came later, at different times. One was thinking about a Christmas gift for her husband until Aziraphale gave her the perfect non-book idea. The other had been looking for a recent best seller that he was more than willing to part with. Both regarded his outfit critically but neither said anything about it before they departed.
Shortly before he closed, the florist from a few doors down came by to speak with him about the annual holiday decorations that she prepared for all the shops of the block. She had been doing this for the last ten years and Aziraphale was quite content to keep the tradition going. The designs had already been reviewed, deposits provided, and materials acquired, and it was time to discuss the final payment and the setup of the decorations.
"And when will you need the money, Miss Garth?" he asked. "Perhaps I should just pay you now. Crowley and I are going on a mini break this weekend and if it ends well, we may try traveling again soon for a longer period."
"Ah, yes, your Mr. Crowley," the florist said with a knowing grin. "Looks like you two had a fun night last night."
"I am afraid I don't understand you," Aziraphale frowned. He didn't want to feel prudish but Mary Garth's tone was nearly lecherous.
The florist laughed and waved a hand in front of her own collar. "Sorry, I just see this sort of thing all the time in my shop. One or other of the girls working for me comes in covered in love bites every week. And then I have to listen to them gossip about it on their breaks. I forget that it isn't just for the young, you know? Gives me hope that I might be the one to show up with marks all up and down my neck one morning."
Aziraphale tried to school his features but he was more keen to get the woman out of his store so he could lock up and run to a mirror. He remembered Crowley kissing his neck, humming against it. It had felt quite lovely at the time, not at all painful and certainly nothing that would bruise!
With no more thought to the money, he shooed her from the shop as if she had asked about some of his cherished first editions. He flipped the sign to closed and dashed to the lavatory he kept for customers. In the cold and unflattering light hanging above the mirror, he could clearly see the mark on his neck, and could think of only one way that it got there.
Crowley was more than capable of getting up on his own. And if he doubted his natural ability to wake at the desired time, he could certainly set an alarm on his phone to get him out of bed. But, for some reason, he let Aziraphale wake him each day by knocking gently on the door. It was one more piece of their overall routine.
An uncharacteristically sharp rapping on his door jolted him from his slumber. He responded with his usual, incoherent noise of recognition and began the stretches and twists that preceded his getting out of bed.
The knocking repeated. "Crowley!" snapped the angel from the other side of the door. "Get up! We need to talk!"
Crowley groaned. Those words were never good. He slithered out of bed and made his way to the door just as Aziraphale pounded on it for the third time.
"Crowley! Open up this instant or I -"
Crowley yanked the door open before the angel could vocalize his threat.
"Up or Down, and what did they do?" Crowley barked, dismissing pleasantries entirely in the face of Aziraphale's agitation. He scrubbed his face with his hands, mentally preparing himself for bad news and a quick response.
"Neither," snapped the angel. "And this," he said, pointing to his neck.
Crowley furrowed his brow. He wasn't sure what he should be looking at and he was too groggy to puzzle it out. If it wasn't trouble from Above or Below, he didn't know what could get the angel so worked up. "Are you trying a new knot in your bowtie?"
It was apparently the wrong answer because the angel's eyes blazed with righteous fury. Crowley woke up a little more and looked again, squinting. There was a discoloration on the angel's neck, almost like a bruise.
Crowley's eyes went wide with recognition. "Oh," he said numbly.
Aziraphale's mouth pressed into a disapproving line.
"Well," Crowley offered, "so long as no one else has seen it, we can get rid of it and none the wiser."
"I had three customers this morning," Aziraphale stated as an accusation.
Crowley winced. It was just his luck that today of all days the bookshop would get some foot traffic. "And how many of them do you expect to see again?" he asked, aiming for a dismissive tone. The angel had a habit of chasing off his customers. The situation was not irredeemable.
"Perhaps none of them," Aziraphale admitted in clipped tones, "but the florist who stopped by to discuss how the block is going to decorate for the Christmas season is going to have a similar conversation with every store owner in the neighborhood, except it's now going to include, 'and have you seen the hickey Mr. Fell is sporting?'"
Crowley nodded, trying not to provoke further anger. He knew he had pushed things a little more than Aziraphale would have gone on his own last night, and part of him was unsurprised that their relationship was going to suffer a setback, but he was still disappointed at it.
"Shall I get dressed and have my coffee, and then we can talk about it?" At this point, he was just trying to delay the inevitable. Aziraphale was probably not going to smite him, but that didn't mean Crowley was getting out unscathed.
Aziraphale miracled a demitasse and saucer and handed it to him with an icy glare. Crowley took it rather than having it thrust into his chest with enough force to shatter. Yes, Aziraphale had been aware of the love bite for longer than it had been wise. He'd had time to think and reach his own conclusions, and Crowley was now merely included pro forma like a criminal brought before a judge for sentencing. Aziraphale was even blocking Crowley from leaving his room and entering the rest of the angel's home.
With a snap, Crowley replaced his pajamas with an outfit suitable for an evening gala, and his bed head with rakish spikes. If he was about to be evicted from Soho, he was going to go with style. He downed the shot of espresso in one gulp and sent the cup and saucer back to wherever they had come from.
"Alright," he said, pulling sunglasses from a jacket pocket to shade his eyes, "you want me to go? Just say the word, Angel, and I'll go."
"Go?" Confusion was the first crack in Aziraphale's anger that he had seen this morning. "I don't… I didn't say…" He suddenly realized his posture implied a lot more hostility than he felt. "You marked me, Crowley, and I didn't even realize it was happening," he huffed. "I've never had one before. Six thousand years and I had no idea my corporation was even vulnerable to such a thing! And then I had three customers stop in this morning - three! - plus Mary Garth from the flower shop. Of course Mary noticed it right away and left to tell everyone else about it. A private moment is about to become salacious gossip. I am mortified, Crowley!"
Crowley wrinkled his face in thought. Fury was quickly morphing into distress, and it was not leveled at him.
"So, you aren't angry with me?" guessed the demon.
"Crowley, you gave me a love bite!" Aziraphale reminded him. "Of course I'm angry with you. But I don't think you did it intentionally. Did you?"
Silence fell as Crowley slowly realized the question was not rhetorical before assuming an air of (completely earned) innocence. To prove his sincerity, he took off his glasses and tucked them back into their pocket.
"No!" he protested. "No, of course not. If I knew I made a mark, I would at least have taken a moment to revel in it." As admissions of innocence went, it was not the best but it was absolutely authentic.
Aziraphale only looked at him in disappointment.
"Look, Angel, I didn't mean it," he offered as a demonic apology. "Let me chase her down and muddle her memories before she tells anyone. She's a lousy florist anyway. Her plants are all half-dead from boredom as near as I can tell."
There was a slight pause as Aziraphale considered it. "No," he sighed, "best not. She's probably already told everyone in the yarn shop next door. They'll be snickering at us behind their knitting needles, but I suppose it is to be expected. We are supposed to be a couple after all." He sighed again. "Well, come along, Dear, now that you're up, although you might want to change into something more casual. I know that I don't have anything so fancy planned for the afternoon."
So saying, the angel turned around and began to descend the stairs, leaving a slack-jawed demon in his wake.
"Wait a moment," Crowley called out, dangling his upper body over the bannister and the angel below him. "You're not upset with this?"
A flicker of irritation rippled over Aziraphale's features. "As I believe I have already stated, Crowley, I am quite upset with the situation."
"Yeah, but you're not all smitey or 'get thee out of my flat, demon,' or 'the mini break is cancelled so bugger off,' or anything?"
"It's a bit too late for that now," Aziraphale reasoned.
"And if I had noticed the mark before I went to bed last night…?" He trailed off, hoping for guidance.
"Then you should have said something," Aziraphale supplied. "It's easy enough to miracle away or hide with a scarf. No one else needs to know the minute details of what we do in private so long as we appear to match their vision of us."
No one else needs to know.
Crowley folded over almost completely, hanging over the bannister. His shoes began to slip on the worn surface of the hall runner.
"You'd've been fine if we'd snogged each other senseless last night so long as we got rid of the evidence before anyone else found out?" he asked. That was what it had sounded like, but the demon needed to check and double check. Getting this wrong could have serious repercussions.
Aziraphale looked at him hanging upside-down with patient resignation. "Well, yes, Dear. We're pretending to be a human couple, and that is certainly a very human-couple thing to do. We're still learning. We'll get it right with enough practice."
Crowley's shoes slipped and he flailed a little more while Aziraphale disappeared from view. "Right," he said when he was no longer in danger of falling down the stairs, "practice."
He righted himself and went downstairs to buttonhole his angel. He had a feeling that there was more to this conversation.
Aziraphale was found in the front room of the shop, making sure it was well and truly closed for the day.
"What were you thinking about practice?" the demon asked, getting quickly to the point.
"That's what you want to talk about?" Aziraphale asked, not quite meeting his eyes. He had too many things to do to spare his demon a glance.
Crowley shrugged. "We've been pretending to be humans for more centuries than I care to count. We've got that part down. But, as you said, being a couple requires some practice to get it right. We need to be convincing after all. So. When should we practice?"
"I wasn't really planning on doing anything about it this afternoon," said Aziraphale as he kept moving. "There are some errands I want to run before we go out of town tomorrow. And we need to pack."
It took a few seconds for Crowley to recognize it for what it was: not a refusal but a petition to be persuaded. After the angel's boldness last night, and after being found out by the neighborhood gossip, he was naturally a little shy. It was only appropriate for Crowley to make the next step.
"But you aren't actively planning on not doing anything about it?" Crowley pressed as he followed the angel through the rooms. "If the situation arises? I mean, how else will I learn not to leave a mark?"
Aziraphale stopped abruptly and Crowley nearly crashed into him. Aziraphale turned and pointed a finger at the demon.
"Just so we are clear," he said with warnings sparking in his eyes, "that my neck has already been on the receiving end. It is only fair that your neck is next."
"That..." Crowley nodded. He mentally shredded his copy of the timeline and burned the pieces with hellfire, sending them scattering to the four winds. He would change his clothes into something more casual, suitable for an afternoon of errands and with a deep, wide v-neck for convenient access, and then he would drive the angel wherever he wanted to go as fast as the Bentley could travel until they were home again and stretched out on the sofa for more practice. "That seems like a fair and equitable arrangement."
Hey! And we're done! And they didn't even go on a minibreak. As I mentioned in the first post, I have actually started on the follow up but it's not an "are we or aren't we?" story, more of a "we are, and we have other things to deal with than talking about it" story so this felt like a good end point. Plus, the whole ending of Crowley planning his day is a nice echo of The Renovation which is my one shot precursor to An Equitable Arrangement.
Any way, if you've made it this far, thank you so much for sticking with it. Feel free to give me a comment, follow or favorite now that we've reached End Of Line. Or be a demon and lurk on over to my other stories.
And above all else: stay safe, stay healthy, and take care.