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Antichrist, Adversary... Ring Bearer?

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It had been a hell of a day, if you’d pardon his language. A hell of a decade, really, since Crowley had called to report that the Antichrist had been born and the great, invisible clock that counted down to Armageddon had begun ticking loudly - ineffably. Eleven years of constant worry, and then the absolute madness of the past week. And his shop had burned down! Oh, it was simply too much to bear. Aziraphale had never seen the appeal of sleeping, but after the last eleven years (and one week), he could rather understand the human desire to close one’s eyes and let yourself be carried off into pleasant dreams. A nap sounded rather nice, actually.

Aziraphale supposed Crowley wouldn’t mind if he kipped on the couch for a while - assuming Crowley even had a couch. Oh, that was a troubling thought. What if Crowley only had one bed? He was sure the demon would be wanting to sleep, and while Aziraphale wasn’t opposed to the idea of sharing a bed with Crowley (in truth, considering how madly he loved Crowley, the idea was rather appealing), he thought it may be terribly forward of him to suggest it. But no matter. They had much bigger fish to fry before they would be able to rest. Heaven and Hell would be out for vengeance, and soon.

He told himself that was why he didn’t notice the ring at first. Seems he would have, a foreign object suddenly appearing on his person, but it didn’t feel foreign. It felt as if he’d been wearing it for centuries - like it was part of him.

Aziraphale first noticed it when it caught the light as they climbed onto the bus in Tadfield, headed for London. He paused, extremely confused by the appearance of jewelry - but only a moment. He had to get into his seat, after all, and Crowley was tutting behind him. Once settled next to Crowley in a seat, he looked down at it curiously, taking in the simple-yet-ornate design. It was stunningly beautiful, and he felt a warm rush of love just looking at it. The metal was white, and he recognized it instantly as statine, one of only a handful of elements found strictly in celestial lands - this one native to Heaven. At first glance, the statine was delicately carved with swirling lines, and set with a blood-red stone Aziraphale knew to be coskian, or devil’s eye - found only in Hell. He felt a prickle of alarm at the sight of the stone which had the ability to burn him badly, if not destroy him completely, but realized quickly that the stone - actually, the entire ring - was encased in a thin shell of chionium, protecting Aziraphale from injury. He relaxed a little, knowing he was safe, but couldn’t stop himself taking the tip of his finger and lightly touching the red stone. Nothing happened, much to his relief. It seemed it was perfectly safe, but that didn’t satisfy his curiosity. Where had the ring come from? Why was he wearing it? And why did he feel such love coming from the little bauble? It was the same feeling he got from Crowley in unguarded moments, and that tied the ring to his beloved demon in his mind. But how did he end up with an otherworldly ring out of nowhere that radiated good feelings?

So many unbelievable things had happened over the last week, he hadn’t been able to properly absorb them all and process them. This seemed to be just one more thing. He decided to think on the ring later, after he and Crowley came up with a plan to escape the damnation they’d brought down upon themselves from their respective home offices. Frankly, the sudden appearance of a ring - even heavenly in design - wasn’t very high on his list of priorities at the moment. Crowley and his safety were foremost on his mind right now.

They were slightly less than halfway to London when Crowley silently reached over and took his hand, threading their fingers together. They hadn’t held hands in thousands of years, and had only done so when necessary before, so the touch - while entirely welcome - was unusual. Crowley’s thumb covered Aziraphale’s, and for the first time in longer than he could remember, Aziraphale felt… protected. He looked over at Crowley to see that the demon was apparently staring straight ahead, eyes hidden behind his dark glasses. Crowley looked as unflappable as ever, matter-of-fact, and Aziraphale just smiled faintly, accepting the change. Yet another thing to ponder on later, when all this was truly behind them and they were finally safe.

Crowley’s thumb stroked Aziraphale’s gently, and the angel glanced down at their joined hands, warmth and security bubbling within him. Then he caught sight of a little glint between his own ring and pinky fingers and did a double take.

It was another ring, and similar to Aziraphale’s, it was located on the third finger of Crowley’s left hand. Aziraphale couldn’t see it clearly, since the hand that wore it was currently being held, but he could see well enough to recognize the metal korhil, jet black with threads of red. He knew it to be indigenous to Hell, and found nowhere else. Rumors abounded that Satan’s throne was made of it, and it was frequently used in demonic armor. There was a white stone winking up from the ring, as well, and this one was cracium, best known as the precious, heavenly jewels that adorned Christ’s crown. Like Aziraphale’s, Crowley’s entire ring was encased in a thin layer of chionium, protecting the angel from being burned by the demonic metal and Crowley from being burned by the heavenly stone.

Aziraphale would never admit it out loud, but he’d made quite a study of Crowley over the last six millenia. He knew his demon well, and had seen him in all manner of dress and fashion. But never, not in the entirety of six thousand years, had he ever seen Crowley wear a ring.

Covertly, he looked down at the band on his own finger, stretching his hand beside his thigh where Crowley (hopefully) wouldn’t notice. Yes, it was still there, he decided, still glinting in the harsh fluorescent light of the bus’ interior, and still felt perfectly natural. He still felt love and acceptance from the ring, and still didn’t understand. He glanced over at Crowley and yes, his other hand was still being held, his thumb being stroked lightly.

What in Heaven’s name was going on?

“Crowley, I --”

“You don’t have to stay with me, of course,” Crowley said in a rush, almost as if they’d been involved in a conversation when Aziraphale spoke, and not sitting in silence. “I only thought it might be prudent, considering the state of your shop. You could miracle it back, of course, but that would take some doing and you’ll likely need help. Not that I won’t be willing to help, of course I would, I just wonder if maybe we shouldn’t keep our heads down for a while. That’s not to mention the fact that we should probably discuss strategy.”

“Since when have you been prudent?” Aziraphale challenged him out of habit. Crowley cut him a look, then shook his head slightly. The angel hastened to apologize. “Sorry, old habits. You think we need to strategize?”

“Yes. They’re going to come for us, angel. And they’re not going to be paying a friendly call when they do,” he warned darkly, and his hand tightened around Aziraphale’s.

Aziraphale gave him a reassuring squeeze. “We’ll come up with something. There’s still Agnes’ last prophecy to sort out. Maybe that can give us some clue.”

“Maybe,” Crowley agreed. “Probably. But it feels like it’s not quite over yet. Do you feel it, too?”

“I do. Like we still have the final act of the play to perform.”

“And it’s going to have to be the performance of our long lives.”

“I quite agree.”

They were silent for a few miles, and Aziraphale knew he should be worrying about the last prophecy and the impending wraths of Heaven and Hell - and in truth, he was worried about those things. The thought of what an angry Beelzebub might do to Crowley - he fought down a shudder. It wouldn’t come to that. It couldn’t. Aziraphale had not lived the last couple of millenia with this intense love in his heart only to have the object of that love melted in Holy Water. They’d come up with something. Of course they would.

But Aziraphale couldn’t help but glance down at his own left hand, at the statine-and-coskian ring, and then at Crowley’s krorhil-and-cracium ring. Where had they come from? What did they mean?

He decided it wouldn’t hurt to take a moment out of their silent brainstorming to attempt to satisfy his curiosity.

“Crowley?”

“Yes, angel?”

“Where do you suppose the rings came from?”

Crowey turned to look at him, eyebrows high behind his glasses, then towards Aziraphale’s left hand. “Oh, you got one, too?”

“I did, and I’m wondering why. Or perhaps how.”

“I am too,” Crowley admitted, “but I’ll be better able to focus when you’re not in danger from fucking Gabriel and his lot. I’m terrified they’re going to hurt you, and it’s all I can think about right now, Zira. I can think on the rings more when we have our debts settled with Heaven and Hell - and you’re safe.”

Aziraphale melted. “I’m going to be fine, Crowley. Honestly. But you’re right, we can worry about baubles and what they mean later.”

Crowley lifted their joined hands into the light, turning them this way and that, inspecting his ring. “Krorhil. And is that cracium?”

“Yes. I think so.”

“Looks to be. And encased in chionium, to protect us from burns. S’nice, wherever it came from. And look, it’s got little wings engraved on it.”

Aziraphale did lean over to peer at Crowley’s ring, even though his own fingers were obscuring the view somewhat. Crowley was right, it did appear to have feathers engraved delicately into the krorhil. He wondered idly about the swirling lines he’d seen on his own ring and lifted his hand to check.

“Mine has serpents.”

He turned with wide eyes to Crowley, who looked surprised, but pleased. The demon’s face split into a soft, reassuring smile, and he kissed Aziraphale’s knuckles sweetly. He’d never done that before, not in six thousand years, and the angel’s heart tripped all over itself. His skin tingled where Crowley’s lips had been, and he felt himself flushing.

“It’s fine, angel. Let’s sort this mess with our home offices, figure out the prophecy, and then we can dwell on our new jewelry.”

“Yes, lets,” Aziraphale agreed, immensely glad Crowley was still holding his hand and stroking his thumb comfortingly. “It’ll be fine, I know it will.”

~*~O~*~

“To the world,” Crowley said, his champagne glass raised to toast.

Aziraphale raised his own glass. “To the world,” he answered with feeling. He was so happy, so blissfully happy to be sitting in the Ritz with Crowley, he nearly couldn’t stand himself. They’d survived - and more than that, they’d arranged things so Heaven and Hell would be leaving them alone for the foreseeable future. Oh, he wasn’t naive, he knew that at some point their respective home offices would come knocking again, perhaps sooner rather than later. But he believed, too, that Heaven and Hell would be keen to avoid the embarrassment of acknowledging that an angel and a demon had escaped their control, so they were safe for a while.

The angel and the demon in question clinked glasses and each took a sip of champagne.

“I’ll tell you, angel, I don’t fancy trading bodies with you again anytime soon.”

“Oh? Why is that?”

“Well, aside from the sickening urge to do good all the time, the tweed and wool itches terribly. I don’t know how you put up with it.”

Aziraphale smiled. “The same way you put up with wearing dark sunglasses anywhere and everywhere - you simply become used to it after aeons. But I agree, I was quite relieved to get back into my own body.”

There was a flash of something lascivious in Crowley’s face, then it disappeared. “I’ve been wearing those sunglasses for centuries. Most light seems too harsh without them, now.”

“Well, I was very happy to give them back,” Aziraphale said primly, finishing the last bite of his angel food cake.

Crowley pushed his dessert plate towards the angel, only one bite taken from his devil’s food cake. “Here, angel.”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly --”

One eyebrow quirked up behind the dark glasses. “You’d let it go to waste?”

That was terribly unfair. But then, it was Crowley…

“Alright, then,” Aziraphale agreed with a little sigh for effect. “If you insist.”

When he lifted his hand to slide the plate over, the lights caught his ring and he felt another flash of love and warmth. Tenderness. He’d noticed Crowley still wearing his ring, as well, but hadn’t had the nerve to bring it up yet, now that the dust appeared to be settling.

He still didn’t.

They discussed light topics while Aziraphale finished the cake, nothing of any real consequence. It felt as if they were dancing around the last piece of the puzzle, and he noticed Crowley twirling his ring absently.

“Ready to go?” Crowley asked when Aziraphale dabbed his lips and lay the napkin by his plate.

“Yes, I think so.”

Crowley flagged down the waiter, and Aziraphale was surprised when he paid the bill with a wad of notes instead of miracling it away, as he normally did. Aziraphale was no maths whiz, never had been, but he believed the waiter had just gotten the tip of his life. That knowledge made another surge of love for his generous demon well up. No matter how he would protest at the description, he really was a sweet old serpent.

The duo made their way into the late afternoon sunshine and Aziraphale gave a deep sigh of contentment once they were in the open air. There was a nightingale singing nearby, and really, it was the most perfect day.

“Well,” Crowley started, looking uncharacteristically sheepish. “I suppose you’re ready to get back to the shop…”

Aziraphale was very, very ready to get back to his shop and make sure for himself that everything was back to normal. But he also felt a stab of anxiety at the thought of the demon being out of his sight just yet. Perhaps it was ridiculous, but he’d just feel better if he could have Crowley around a little while longer. Ideally forever.

“I am, quite ready, but perhaps you’d like to come with me?”

Crowley looked pleased and a little eager, but he said, “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely sure. It’s a lovely day and we’ve nowhere to be, why don’t we just go for a long stroll in the general direction of my shop?”

The demon’s angular face brightened. “A stroll. Yes. Lead the way.”

They started down the pavement, headed towards Soho, back to chatting lightly. Aziraphale absently spun the statine ring on his finger, wondering when the ideal time to bring it up would be. He was encouraged that Crowley hadn’t taken his off… maybe his ring meant as much to him as Aziraphale’s meant? Oh, he did hope so. It would be such a shame if --

“Would you stop twirling that thing before you lose it?” Crowley snapped good-naturedly.

Aziraphale turned to look at him, wide-eyed at being caught, but before he could say anything, Crowley grabbed his hand and laced their fingers. “There. Now maybe you’ll leave it be.”

For a moment, Aziraphale couldn’t think of what to say to that. He was wrapped in that warm feeling of love and contentment again, and his mind was buzzing, focused down to where their hands were joined. Finally, he managed, “You were playing with yours at the Ritz.”

“Yes, but I was stationary. If it had fallen off my finger, I could have picked it right up from the table or floor. If you dropped yours out here on the pavement, there’s no telling what would happen to it.”

Aziraphale didn’t bother to point out that it would likely simply fall to the ground and he could pick it up, too. It thrilled him that Crowley seemed so serious about it - even though they still had no idea what ‘it’ was.

They were silent awhile, just walking hand-in-hand, growing ever closer to Soho and Aziraphale’s shop. People passing them on the street would glance down at their joined hands and smile, just the way Aziraphale himself did when he saw a particularly cute couple. Couple. The word zinged around his brain. Was that what they were? Not that he hadn’t wished for that for years, but… were they? Was that what their rings meant?

Crowley kept up a steady stream of conversation, his hand never letting go of Aziraphale’s, and if the angel hadn’t known better, he’d have said it was an anxious sort of chatter. He responded appropriately, of course, it wouldn’t do to be rude, but internally, his thoughts were on the coordinating rings on their fingers: one ethereal, one occult, with stones from the opposing realm in each. What did it mean?

Finally, a few streets away from the shop, Aziraphale could stand it no longer. “What do you think it means?” he asked, interrupting Crowley’s one-sided conversation about a particularly unruly ficus.

He didn’t pretend not to know what Aziraphale meant. “The rings?”

“Yes. I’ve been puzzling about them since I noticed mine last night, on the bus home from Tadfield, but I can’t make sense of it. They seem to be a blending of Heaven and Hell or something similar: statine and devil’s eye on my ring, korhil and cracium on yours. But I don’t understand where they came from or what they mean.”

Crowley sighed, but didn’t look at Aziraphale, kept his eyes downcast. “I have a theory, but it’s pretty solid.”

“Well?” Aziraphale prodded. “Would you care to tell me?”

“No.”

The angel was shocked. “You won’t tell me?”

Crowley was clearly agitated. He dropped Aziraphale’s hand (hurting his feelings more than a little) and jammed his hands in his pockets, still not looking at him and walking a little faster. “I don’t want to talk about it, okay? It’s bloody terrifying. I’ll take the ring off tonight, alright? Just… let it go.”

Now Aziraphale was really hurt. He never wanted to take his off… the thought that Crowley did was like a blow to the breastbone. He did his best to swallow the hurt, then quickened his stride to catch up to Crowley and asked, “Why is it terrifying?”

“You just can’t let it lie, can you?” Crowley groused.

“No, I can’t. Obviously this affects me, too, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten one. So will you please tell me what you’re on about?”

Crowley didn’t say anything for half a block, just glowered threateningly at anything his gaze landed on. Aziraphale was undaunted, well used to Crowley’s glower and not at all bothered by it. He was near to desperate to hear whatever Crowley’s theory was, and his anxiety grew with every step. Finally, he couldn’t keep silent another second.

“Whatever happened to ‘we’re on our side now’?” he demanded, an edge to his tone.

The demon looked up at him, his face clearly surprised. “We are on our side!”

“Well, you’re not acting like it! If something is frightening you, it stands to reason I should also be frightened, since we’re in this together. At the very least, I should know what has you all in a lather. That’s what I took ‘being on our own side’ to mean, dearest.”

Crowley sighed, seeming quite put out, and came to a stop in the middle of the pavement. Pedestrians were passing, jostling them or scowling as they bustled by, and Aziraphale wisely grabbed Crowley by the arm and tugged him out of the way, near to a building. Crowley allowed himself to be led, but didn’t look up to meet Aziraphale’s eyes.

They were only a couple of blocks from the shop, already back in Aziraphale’s neighborhood, but the anxiousness he’d felt to see his shop had diminished greatly in light of their current situation.

At the end of his rope, Aziraphale crossed his arms and huffed. “Anthony J. Crowley, if you don’t tell me what’s going on in that brain of yours right this instant --”

He didn’t get to finish the idle threat. Crowley started talking, hands still shoved in his pockets, eyes still down.

“When Adam defied his father, Satan, something happened. I’m not entirely sure what, but I believe he set everything right - at least, right as he knew it to be. He erased the previous few hours and restored things to the way they had been - but with some… additions.”

“Like what?”

“Well, he restored my Bentley, but now it’s equipped with a top-of-the-line stereo system and Satnav. He restored your bookshop, but there are things in there that weren’t there before, I noticed. If I had to guess, I’d say he gave everyone at the airbase the wishes of their heart - their deepest, most secret desires. Things they dare not name. For instance, he made sure we’d be safe. And he…” Crowley swallowed and a flush stained his cheeks. “He made us married.”

Married!” Aziraphale echoed, in a much louder tone.

Crowley looked miserable. “Yes. Married. That’s why we have the rings. They’re our wedding rings.”

Aziraphale was dumbfounded. He’d loved Crowley for centuries, of course, and had always wanted him, desired to be nearer to him, but he’d never told anyone how he longed for Crowley. It had always seemed too fantastic an idea to entertain, so he never really --

“He got it from me,” Crowley admitted, head still bowed. “I… he got it from me. My deepest desires.”

Aziraphale just gaped at him for a moment. “You wished that we… that we…”

Crowley’s cheeks were nearly the same shade as his hair. “Yes. I always have. Always… always wished and hoped and kept it secret. I never dreamed it could ever actually be a reality.”

It felt like clouds had cleared and the sun had begun to shine its rays down on Aziraphale. He swore he could still hear the nightingale's song, and he felt lighter than air.

“My dear,” he gushed, feeling giddy, “my most darling creature, don’t you know I’ve always felt the same way?”

Instead of looking pleased, Crowley looked up at him, stricken. “That just makes it worse!”

Aziraphale recoiled a bit. “I beg your pardon?”

“Don’t you see what this means for you? Fraternization between a demon and an angel was bad enough - marriage between the two is unthinkable! You’ll Fall!”

“No, I won’t,” he answered calmly.

“You will. Sure, you’re fine now, you haven’t done anything wrong, but what if we... what if…” He gulped. “What if we were to embrace married life and live together as spouses?”

Aziraphale’s tone was gentle. “Is that what you want, darling?”

The demon kept his hands jammed firmly in his pockets, his head still down. “S’what I’ve always wanted.”

He took a minute to try to formulate the proper response, then said, “Crowley, look at me.” Crowley shook his head in denial, eyes still affixed on the ground, and Aziraphale tipped his chin up gently with one crooked finger. “Look at me, dearest.”

The demon did so with extreme reluctance, and Aziraphale couldn’t stop himself from sliding his hand until he cupped Crowley’s beloved cheek. He smiled tenderly. “I want that, too.”

Something washed over Crowley’s face, something like hope mixed with relief, but it was gone nearly as soon as Aziraphale had spotted it, and the demon was shaking his head, looking away again. “No. We can’t. I won’t let you.”

“Why not?”

“Dammit, Zira!” he burst out. “I won’t let you Fall! Not for me!”

Aziraphale smiled reassuringly. “If I were going to Fall over you, I’d have done so ages ago. Centuries ago, when I first started having these feelings - these desires.”

“Having feelings and desires is completely different from acting on them, angel. Trust me, I’m a demon. I know a thing or two about temptation, and there are hard and fast limits. You can have the desires all day, but as long as you don’t act on them, you’ll be safe. And that’s all that matters. I’ll take the ring off tonight, and we’ll act like this never happened. I just wanted to pretend for a little --”

He was cut off when Aziraphale kissed him, stopping his mouth. The demon’s lips were soft and warm, slightly parted, and even though Crowley wasn’t responding, Aziraphale was very much enjoying himself. He let his fingers slide back from Crowley’s cheek to thread through his hair and tilted his head a little to get a better angle, moving his lips gently over his beloved’s. When he traced his tongue against Crowley’s bottom lip, the demon gave a little whimper and sank into the kiss, wrapping his arms around Aziraphale. They kissed for long moments, bodies melting into each other, refusing to allow even the tiniest molecule to come between them. Crowley’s tongue explored Aziraphale’s mouth, and the angel welcomed his invasion with a little whimper of his own. Desire was straining the leash, hands starting to roam, when a car horn blew nearby and startled them into breaking the kiss.

They didn’t retreat far, however, still wrapped up in each other’s arms, bodies still pressed together. Aziraphale smiled and pressed one more gentle kiss to Crowley’s slightly swollen lips.

“I didn’t fall,” he pointed out quietly. “I kissed you and didn’t fall.”

“No,” Crowley acknowledged. “You’re still here with me.”

“I’m not afraid to act on my desires, Crowley. This isn’t merely lust. What I feel for you is the purest form of love - and acting on that is never a sin. Ever. And even if it was, I wouldn’t care.”

Crowley still looked a little troubled. “But what if God changes Her mind and decides to… to smite you or something?”

“Then we’ll face that the same way we’ve faced everything else… together. But I’m not afraid of my love for you, darling, and I’m not afraid to act on the desires of my heart - or my flesh.”

The demon looked surprised. “Did you say --”

“Of the flesh? Yes, my dear. I have them too, you know.”

“No, not that - although we’ll definitely be discussing that further. I mean, did you say you…?”

“Love you?” Aziraphale finished with a smile. “Of course I do, darling. I’ve loved you for centuries. Millennia. And I’ve been in love with you for nearly as long - although I didn’t fully realize it until about eighty years ago.”

Crowley just gaped. “You’re in love with me? You wanted this, too?”

“Dear heavens, yes. Being married to you is quite the dream come true - even if it’s a dream I didn’t dare dwell on. I’m so glad you did, though. I was afraid to entertain the daydream of being your husband, but thankfully, you were more bold than me. You nearly always are.”

Crowley didn’t say anything for a moment, then just repeated, “Husband.”

Aziraphale felt suddenly self-conscious. “Well, yes… I assumed, since we’re married… Well, at least Adam imagined us married… And I’ve lived as a human man since I took on a corporeal form, but if you’d prefer, I can make an Effort the other way…”

“No!” Crowley interjected, then cleared his throat. “I mean, no. I - I like you just as you are. Please don’t change for me.”

The angel smiled. “Good. I rather like you as you are, too.” He planted one more quick kiss on Crowley’s lips, then took a step back and offered his hand. “Now, if it’s all the same to you, I rather enjoyed holding hands and strolling with my husband in the sunshine. And I really do want to see my shop.” He waggled his fingers. “Shall we go?”

“I love you,” Crowley blurted, then flushed bright red. “I’ve always loved you, angel. And I swear to do everything in my power to make you happy until the end of time.”

Aziraphale beamed. “You already do, beloved. You already do.”