In the weeks following their return from Lower Tadfield, they dined out thirty-two times in two months. Sushi. Thai. Lebanese. They went and got ice cream. They strolled into liquor shops and came out with more bottles than they could carry. They called each other in the morning and met for pastries and cappuccinos. Crowley had actually begun to think they should avert the Apocalypse more often.
And then Aziraphale had invited him back to the bookshop.
Come over, he had said. I have a gift for you, he had said. And Crowley, like an idiot, had said that treacherous word: yes.
Of course, he hadn’t known what was coming. He had even felt eager, in fact, lounging in the doorway, watching with an interested glint in his eye, as Aziraphale set the first bottle on the table. It was a Chateau d’Esclans Garrus Rose, nine years old. Crowley whistled appreciatively, drawn forward despite himself. He pulled up a chair as Aziraphale uncorked it.
“Nice,” he said. “I’m flattered.”
“Well, thank you,” said Aziraphale, primly, pouring him a glass. “I like to think I have taste.”
“You do,” said Crowley, feeling generous. “Really. You’ve always been good at it.”
“This.” He sniffed at the wine, took a drink, savoring it. “Gifts,” he clarified, seeing the angel’s confusion.
“Gift-giving.” He held up the glass. Aziraphale stared at him; Crowley raised his eyebrows. “You got me a gift, you said.”
“Oh,” said Aziraphale, and a funny expression crossed his face. “That’s not the gift, my dear. This is.”
And he set something else on the table. Crowley glanced down at it as he drank again.
It was a black velvet ring box.
He choked. Jets of pale wine spurted from his nose. It burned like the fires of Hell. And he would know.
The angel waited patiently as he gagged and coughed and mopped at his shirt.
“Aziraphale,” he said, when he could speak again. “What is that?”
“it’s a ring,” said Aziraphale calmly.
“Yes, I can see that,” said Crowley, in the same tone. “Why is there a ring?”
Aziraphale looked thoughtful.
“Do you know,” he said after a minute, “I’m not actually sure where the custom –”
“Nope,” Crowley interjected pleasantly. “Try again. Why is there a ring?”
The angel fidgeted. Now he looked embarrassed. “Well, you know,” he said. “It’s been a couple of months since… everything. And I’ve been doing some thinking, you know, about… everything. And you and I, um.” He stared at his nails. “We’ve really been through a lot.”
“Yes, good, good, makes sense,” said Crowley. “Why is there a ring?”
“Oh, honestly, Crowley,” Aziraphale said shortly. “Why is there normally a ring?”
There was a pregnant silence. Crowley leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head. His horror was giving way to a genuine curiosity.
“So, indulge me,” he said. “When you thought about having this conversation, exactly how did you imagine it going?”
“Well, obviously I imagined you saying yes,” said Aziraphale, sounding testy.
“Who else would it be?” snapped Aziraphale.
“Look, I’m a demon,” said Crowley. He mimed horns. “ ‘Get thee behind me, foul fiend.’ Remember?”
“Yes, I'm aware, thank you," said the angel, who appeared to be edging towards full exasperation.
“We’re not exactly invited to participate in the Sacraments.”
“Marriage is secular now.”
“Say that in front of Gabriel, please.”
“I just mean, you could, technically,” said Aziraphale. His throat constricted visibly, and he looked away. “If you wanted to.”
Crowley stared at him. He was being serious.
“Are you being serious?” he said, to make sure.
“No, Crowley, I propose to people to be funny,” the angel hissed, annoyed. “I’m branching out. Magic to comedy.”
“Well, it would explain,” Crowley hissed back, finally losing his patience, “why there's a ring.”
Aziraphale let out a noise of frustration and sat back, disgusted. Crowley looked at his face. Then back at the box.
“You are being serious,” he said, slowly.
“Maybe I should start over,” Aziraphale mused, but the demon was no longer listening.
“Aziraphale – you – we – we’re not even -” The word almost strangled him. He managed to get it out, somehow. "We're not even dating."
Aziraphale raised an eyebrow. “Dating,” he repeated, drawing out the word, his voice dry.
Crowley opened his mouth to say, You know, dinner, drinks, figuring out if we even like each other, and then he closed it again. He could feel his eyes widening. Aziraphale, aware that he had scored a hit, looked back at him, his expression smug.
“No, come on, don’t look at me like that,” said the demon, desperately. “This means more than that, you know it does.”
“Until death do we part?” said Aziraphale. “I think we already have that covered, don’t you?”
“But we'd have to be,” Crowley began, and then swallowed. He couldn’t bring himself to say the word. “Sex,” he said instead. Not that you needed sex for marriage, but it was already out of his mouth, so he went with it. “We don’t have sex, Aziraphale, we’re not l–lovers.”
“Would you like to be?” the angel inquired.
Oh my Jesus Christ alive, thought Crowley hysterically, and he put his head down on the table.
“You really,” he said, with feeling, into the wood, “should have gotten me drunk for this.”
“I didn’t want you to be drunk for this,” his companion said sharply. “Crowley, sit up.”
Crowley propped his chin on the table and glared up at him. “No.”
“For God’s sake,” said Aziraphale wearily, looking skyward, and then he sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Will you just open the box?”
He hesitated a moment longer, but demons were insatiably curious, as a rule, and he finally sat up and reached for it.
Inside the box was a plain gold band, unadorned. There was an inscription inside. It read simply, Eden. Crowley held it wonderingly, feeling the unfamiliar weight of it in his palm.
“Gold’s not really my style,” was the only thing he could think of to say.
Aziraphale looked at him with exasperation. In his hands, the band gleamed for a second and became silver. Crowley stared at it a moment longer, and then up into those ineffable blue eyes.
At last, Aziraphale observed, “It doesn’t have to be this ring.”
“It’s not about the fucking ring,” Crowley said. He discovered, abruptly, that he was furious. They were friends, or at least he had thought they were friends. It wasn’t fair for the angel to mock him like this. He put the ring back in the box and snapped it shut, so he wouldn’t have to look at it. “Aziraphale, you don’t love me.”
There. He had said it. He wished he hadn’t said it with quite so much agony, but he had said it.
Aziraphale was quiet for a long moment. Then he threw up his elegantly manicured hands.
“Crowley,” he said, sounding frustrated, and then he gave up, and leaned forward, and kissed him.
Oh, thought Crowley blankly. Well. That would explain it.
They came apart, noses touching, Crowley listening to his own rabbit’s heartbeat in his ears. It took him a minute to remember to breathe again. Aziraphale was watching him closely, his face inches away from Crowley’s own, his expression filled with compassion – and more than a little amusement, the bastard.
“I can say it, if you like,” he said quietly.
“Don’t you dare,” Crowley protested, alarmed. “If you do, then I’ll have to.”
“And I don’t want to!”
“Well, you’ll likely have to, at some point, if we’re married,” Aziraphale pointed out, his voice as dry as the utterly forgotten wine.
They both looked at the box.
“I’ll lose it,” Crowley breathed. Their faces were still very close together. “I’ll get discorporated, and I’ll lose it. It’ll be gone.”
“We’ll have to replace it eventually anyway,” Aziraphale murmured. His eyes were now on Crowley’s mouth. It was extremely distracting. “The metal wears down. They don’t really make rings for immortals.”
“Well, immortals don’t get married,” Crowley said, faintly. He found that he was shivering as Aziraphale picked up his left hand, sizing it up critically.
“No,” said other absently. “They don’t.”
He reached for the box. Crowley goggled as it opened, as the angel took out the ring. He was dreaming. That would explain everything. He had been practicing the vice of sloth for too long, and now he was finally starting to dream –
He put his other hand over his mouth, like a girl might have, as Aziraphale cleared his throat.
“Crowley,” said the angel, and for the first time in the whole mess of an evening, he blushed. Crowley had to give him grudging credit for holding out as long as he had. “Will you –”
And Crowley, to his own astonishment, as the ring slid down over a finger, heard his own voice, his, Anthony Crowley’s voice, saying it again, as if he somehow hadn’t learned the lesson the first time: