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i'll find a ring if you'll find a shaded tree

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There were plenty of ways Crowley might have imagined his afternoon going, if he had spared the idea any mind. It’s miserable out, the sky sponged gray all the way across with heaving rain clouds, so one could safely assume it would be an afternoon spent largely in the warm indoors until his dinner date with an angel later in the evening.

This assumption, if made at all, would be markedly dashed (pointedly, even, with a fat red marker and a pair of eyebrows raised above the clipboard as if to say ‘you really thought you’d get away with a quiet day in?’) by said angel himself. 

The door jumps open, locked at all times but never for Aziraphale, and then closes again with two identical slams. There’s a brief stutter to Aziraphale’s hurried steps as he presumably tries to adhere to politeness and toe off his brogues in the foyer without losing any forward momentum. 

“Crowley! I’ve been calling you, your stupid answer-thing is full!” 

In the time it takes Crowley to sit up from his boneless sprawl on the sofa, Aziraphale is there in all his pale creams and butter yellows, as well as a criminally soft dove gray sweater vest Crowley gifted him four Christmases ago. 

He’s lovely, as always, and there’s a happy, squirmy little creature in Crowley’s chest stirred to life by his voice and proximity alone; but he’s wearing a look of wide-eyed panic better suited a man at the wrong end of a firing squad, and working frantically at the signet ring that’s adorned his pinky since the actual beginning of time. 

“Angel? What’s-- “ Crowley seizes up in some alarm when the angel keeps coming, piling onto the sofa with such disregard that Crowley has to either yank his knees up to his chest or lose them. “Oi!”

“Give me your hand,” Aziraphale whispers furiously, like a man afraid to be caught speaking in church. He catches hold of Crowley’s wrist, pushes the ring onto the traditional finger, and goes on, “Do exactly as I say, and for the love of all that’s holy, don’t ask questions.

There is absolutely no way Crowley can abide these terms. If the threat of Falling wasn’t enough to keep his mouth shut in the Beginning, an Aziraphale-brand snit certainly won’t be, so-- just as soon as Crowley can get his jaw to stop hanging open, and kick his backfiring brain back into operating speeds, and do anything besides sit there and ogle Aziraphale’s ring on Crowley’s finger-- then there are absolutely going to be questions. Loads of them. 

However, beating him to the punch, is the flashbang arrival of an Archangel. 

Gabriel, to be precise. 

Aziraphale tenses. Crowley’s hackles go up in as textbook a Pavlovian response as there’s ever been.

He feels his skin spring to scale, sharp canines lengthening, and the way the room swims into fuzzy, heat-based vision means his eyes have probably gone all yellow, too.  

‘And die already,’ Gabriel had said, to Aziraphale’s precious form. ‘Die already,’ like it was the last revision on an audit report and then he could clock out for the day and call it a job well done.

For what he would have easily-- casually-- taken from Crowley, there isn’t an end in sight to this wounded rage. 

“Alright, dearest,” Aziraphale murmurs, putting a hand on the small of Crowley’s back. It’s so quiet there’s a good chance Gabriel can’t hear, and even with the thrum of nervous tension in every inch of Aziraphale’s corporeal form, he spares Crowley something soft. “It’s alright.”

“So this is where you’ve run off to,” Gabriel says, looking about in open distaste. “Who decorated this place, anyway? I love the empty space, don’t think I like the color.”

It’s the light pressure of Aziraphale’s hand on him keeping Crowley pinned to the sofa, and only that. He’s as good as chiseled from stone, mouth open only slightly to track Gabriel’s scent, to show off his teeth. 

(He does make a mental note to change everything about the flat Gabriel even halfway approves of. No, scratch that, he’s starting over completely. He’s moving to Chelsea. Fuck you, onion eyes.)

“Well, I had to see it for myself,” the unwelcome creature goes on cheerfully. “Not that we didn’t believe you, Aziraphale, just that-- well, you’ve fudged the truth a bit before, haven’t you? No, don’t look like that, it’s forgotten!” He waves a hand over his shoulder, carelessly. “Let’s leave the past in the past, or whatever it is they say, I don’t know. And with Her approval, there’s not much room for argument from me is there?”

He laughs, inviting them to share in the joke. Aziraphale doesn’t even smile, and Crowley is actively waiting for Gabriel to come two steps forward and one to the right, where he would be just out of the way of the coffee table and well within striking distance. Aziraphale’s fingers bunch in the back of Crowley’s shirt as if to say ‘don’t you dare’.

“To think, we assumed you were fraternizing with the enemy all this time when you’ve actually been in love! There’s nothing wrong with love, is there? That’s as holy as it gets!” He sounds like a kindergartner describing their parent’s job exactly as it was described to them, with all the confidence and faculty of someone who has no idea what the words coming out of their mouth even mean. He either has no clue how to read a room or he’s bluffing his way through this uncomfortable situation like a pro. Clapping his hands together in a self-satisfied way he adds, “Make sure you save us a table!”

“It’s going to be a private affair, I should think,” Aziraphale says stiffly. “Close friends and family only.”

“Probably better that way, not too crowded,” Gabriel agrees with a commiserating nod. It’s as if Aziraphale slammed a door right in his face and he just chose not to notice. He turns to leave, and pauses, turning his hat in his hands. “I have to say, Aziraphale, I really am relieved this whole thing got straightened out. I thought you had lost your way.”

It’s an unexpected moment of sincerity. Aziraphale blinks, but Crowley isn’t so easily won. 

“After six thousand years of making his life a misery, you want to extend the olive branch now? Now that you know he won’t drag you down with him?” Crowley bares his teeth. “How’s that for unconditional love?”

If a single lunch date at the Ritz watching Aziraphale eat both his and Crowley’s own vanilla custard and listening to him complain about some obstinate customer or another would cost Crowley absolutely everything, he would pay it. He would be a fool not to pay it. He can’t imagine the audacity of six thousand years wasted. All that time, all those angels were free to know Aziraphale, free to love him, and they chose not to. 

As happy as Crowley is to fill that space, to take that spot, he’s angry it was ever left empty to begin with.

Gabriel is watching him with an expression that can’t decide whether it’s more startled or annoyed. Aziraphale’s free hand finds one of Crowley’s, working it free of its fist and threading their fingers together. His thumb rubs at the patch of shining black scales just under his knuckles, soothing. It’s as if he’s loosing plates of Crowley’s armor one by one, the way he did in Wessex once after a round in the tiltyard. He doesn’t speak but his body says hush. 

Crowley bites the inside of his lip, so hard it almost draws blood. 

“She said we could stand to learn a thing or two from you,” Gabriel says. It’s not so much annoyance as it is scrutiny, but that rankles even more. “I wasn’t sure what She meant before, but it’s love isn’t it?” He says it again like an animal mimicking a human word. The sound is almost right, except in its lacking of all meaning. “Demons aren’t supposed to know it, but you do.”

“Well, look at the time,” Aziraphale says loudly, not even pretending to look round at a clock or Crowley’s watch. “I can’t believe we’re nearly late for our appointment. I guess you’d better go, Gabriel.”

Gabriel lights up with the manic eagerness of upper management that every hourly employee knows to dread. “Would you mind giving a seminar? We could arrange a day-pass for you, and cater lunch! Aziraphale would like that, I’m sure. Just look at him.”

Aziraphale doesn’t react, but it’s a studied non-reaction that means the barb hit home. Oh, that complete and utter git.

Gabriel takes two steps forward and one to the right. Crowley watches with animal stillness as the archangel rounds the coffee table, saying something about PowerPoint presentations. He’s going to bite. One good snap. It’s Gabriel’s fault for coming over this way. You don’t just invite yourself into the snake’s den, do you? Not without a nasty repercussion, at least. And besides, Crowley’s not even venomous today. Probably. 

At the last second, Aziraphale bullies him back against the sofa with angelic strength, an arm pinned across Crowley’s chest like an iron bar and his own body blocking access to Gabriel’s. Crowley hisses at him and pushes ineffectively at the solid weight of him, but he might as well have been pushing at the side of the bookshop for all the good he was doing. 

“I really think,” Aziraphale grits out in the ‘we are very much closed for the day, no more sales I’m afraid, please make your way to the exit’ tone Crowley is intimately familiar with, “that you should leave now.”

“Al- right,” Gabriel says in his obnoxious accent. He looks disappointed, but bounces back too quickly for Crowley’s taste. “I’ll get back to you on that seminar. Maybe we can chat at the wedding!”

Aziraphale only sits up when Gabriel is well and truly gone, straightening his vest with unhappy tugs. Crowley remains coiled against the arm of the sofa, seething. 

“Should have let me take off his arm,” he mutters. “A hand at least.”

“It’s simply not worth the paperwork, my dear.” 

Something’s wrong with Aziraphale’s voice. It wobbles a bit, in a way that sends alarm bells ringing in every square inch of Crowley’s form, and when Crowley leans forward to get a good look at him, sure enough-- there are tears in his eyes.  

The anger deserts Crowley as deftly as the light of the Host once did. Color returns to his vision, fangs retracting back into only slightly sharper-than-human canines, and the hands he reaches for Aziraphale with are smooth and scaleless. 

“Angel,” he says hopelessly. “Hey, I’m sorry. I won’t bite anybody, swear.”

Aziraphale chuckles a bit, accepting the hands that curl around his own and squeezing Crowley’s fingers in turn. 

“It’s not you who needs to apologize. I can’t believe I’ve done this.”

“The wedding sham?” 

True, Crowley’s heart knocks a little harder against his chest than it has any right to at the idea of-- marrying Aziraphale, being married to him. There’s a ring on his finger and he can’t even think about that without a giddy, champagne-bubbles feeling making a nuisance of itself in the unguarded part of himself that’s been a lost cause since Eden. But… 

Aziraphale nods, miserable. “They came to the bookshop to offer a performance review. A performance review, of all things, after a year-- anyway. Naturally, they want to know how we escaped their judgement, and all those clever lies we thought up just weren’t doing the trick, and Sandalphon started talking about going round to yours, and I-- panicked. I couldn’t let him-- “ He takes a fortifying breath, grip on Crowley’s hands tightening to the point that a mortal’s bones would have broken. “I made up some fanciful story about a union. I believe I called it a marriage of true minds,” he adds with a half-smile, and seems galvanized at Crowley’s amused snort. “Michael tried to call my bluff, had me sign the form and submit it right there with the four of them as witnesses, and…”

“And it worked,” Crowley surmises. He taps the back of Aziraphale’s hand with his thumb and tries not to think about ineffable plans or inscrutable mothers. He almost manages it. 

“I’m so sorry,” Aziraphale whispers. “I knew it would work, I knew it would. I’ve known for… a long time. Since Hamlet, at least.”

Crowley feels himself go red, and abruptly can’t make eye contact anymore. It’s really quite something, to suddenly have to address the elephant that’s followed you room to room for roughly four hundred years. He gives a tentative tug at his hands, and Aziraphale absolutely does not release him. 

“Please look at me, Crowley.”

He almost can’t. He certainly doesn’t want to. He’s babbling, he realizes with vague horror, saying something along the lines of, “It’s a human thing, Aziraphale, they made it up back when people first decided they needed heirs to inherit houses, you were there, we tried to talk them out of it.” 

Lunch dates at the Ritz. Picnics in the park. Warm evenings in the back room, dozing under piles of worn quilts on a worn tartan sofa, the hearth left empty because fire in the bookshop makes Crowley twitch and Aziraphale can read him like any one of his precious books. Sharing chilled white wines and heady reds, cherry cordials that leave smudges on Aziraphale’s lips, thousands and thousands of years of stories they both remember a little bit differently.

It’s good. Better than Crowley knows how to ask for. He can’t stand the thought of losing it. 

Fingers touch his chin, gently, and guide his face up. 

“And furthermore,” Crowley insists hysterically, “it doesn’t have to change anything. You were clever to come up with it, and if it worked that’s even better, and we can just go through the motions, an addendum to our Arrangement. It doesn’t have to mean anything.”

Aziraphale says, “My darling, it means everything. Of course it does. Only this isn’t how I wanted it to go.” 

His voice is tinged with tears again, but they seem borne of frustration rather than hurt. Crowley risks a nervous glance at him, heart surging up hopefully like some sort of stupid buoy. 

“I wanted to do it properly,” Aziraphale is saying, brow furrowed, mouth all puckered. “You deserve champagne and flowers, all that fuss you pretend to hate. I see you get all misty-eyed at proposals, even ones on television commercials.” Crowley squawks, outraged at the flagrant slander, but Aziraphale goes right on, “There’s a meteor shower coming up that’s supposed to be the event of the century, and I had-- it was, I had everything planned. Your ring isn’t even ready yet. This is all horrible.”

Crowley stares at him. He thinks maybe he’s supposed to say something into this silence, but for the life of him, he’s got nothing. Aziraphale’s ring seems to burn on his finger. After the seconds melt into minutes, Aziraphale looks at him. His expression recycles its defeat into concern. 

“Crowley? Sweetheart, what is it?”

The endearment sends a shiver all the way down Crowley’s spine. He opens and closes his hands like lobster pincers, to be certain he’s not gone actually paralyzed, and still Aziraphale doesn’t let them go. 

“You said,” he says intelligently, and then doesn’t know where to go from there. “It wasn’t a lie?” he tries again, in a rather small voice. 

“The marriage?” Aziraphale searches his face in the manner of a grad student desperately searching the footnotes of an incomprehensible text. “Of course it wasn’t. A fake marriage certificate would hardly have been approved by God.”

Crowley tries to say something and only manages to come up with a squeaking sound. Somehow, it betrays him entirely, and Aziraphale’s eyebrows come together. 

“The proposal is meant to be a surprise, but I would have hoped we were on the same page with the engagement.”

Before he can make sense of literally any one thing about this situation, brain still struggling to jump the hurdle of the word ‘engagement’ in regards to them, Crowley finds himself so wholly embraced that he’s practically hauled into Aziraphale’s lap. 

He sputters, puts up a token protest, and goes absolutely pliant when he feels lips against the crown of his head. 

A halo used to rest there, shining like anything, but a kiss is much better. 

They’ve kissed before, when it was culturally appropriate and even a few times when it wasn’t, but something is different about this time. Namely, that Aziraphale kisses him again, on the forehead this time, and then again on the bridge of his nose, and then again on the cheek, and then again right on the corner of his mouth, and Crowley is almost ready for it when their lips slide together, his breath almost doesn’t hitch when Aziraphale kisses him like they do in romance films, like he means to never stop. 

They part because Crowley’s lungs have forgotten they don’t actually need air and because Aziraphale seems to want to gaze at him. 

“I know I’ve said it before,” he says. “I know you heard me.”

‘They’ll destroy you.’

‘That was very kind of you.’

‘I won’t have you risking your life.’

‘I forgive you.’

‘To the world.’

“I heard you,” Crowley says, because he did. 

He always heard Aziraphale, even when Aziraphale had no clue he was calling out. He heard ‘oh, you silly idiot’ and ‘you’re not as funny as you think you are’ and ‘please come in, please convince me to let you stay’ in a sidelong glare or the roll of his eyes or the downward turn of his mouth when they stood by the shop door. 

And every lunch date at the Ritz and picnic in the park and evening in the back room was stuffed full of ‘I love you’s. A warm quilt and an unlit fireplace and a cherry cordial, passed from an angel’s fingers to a demon's mouth, were quiet, secret ways to say what it wasn’t always safe to say. 

“Me, too,” he whispers. 

“My Crowley,” Aziraphale says affectionately, another way of saying what he’s been saying for years, “I know.”

Desperately trying to get his footing back, Crowley rubs at his eyes with the heel of his hand and sits back as far as Aziraphale’s arms will allow him to go. 

“I still want that proposal,” he informs the angel. “During the meteor shower. With all the fuss you promised. I’ll be sure to act surprised.”

Aziraphale smiles at him. “You can’t fool me. I see right through you, you know.”

But that’s hardly Crowley’s fault. Six thousand years of being known would give away anybody’s edge. He rolls his eyes, and settles into where he’s obviously meant to stay for awhile, looping his arms around Aziraphale’s neck. 

“The act is for everyone else’s benefit, angel. We know better, don’t we?” Crowley grins crookedly and thinks of apples and flaming swords, freely given. “We always have.”