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Seared into Skin

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At 22 years of age, Anthony Crowley wasn’t ready to be married. 

It didn’t seem like he had a choice anymore. 

He hid at the bottom of the stairs to the lower floor of his family’s home, peeking around the corner to try and catch a glimpse of his betrothed. All he could see were the tails of a cream colored coat and he didn’t hear voices other than his parents’. If he thought he could get away with running through the scene he would, if only to catch a glimpse of the Alpha he was about to be sold to. 

“You’re not being sold,” his mother retorted when she broke the news to him. “You’re finally being married, in a good match I might add. This is what omegas do, Anthony. You should have been married far sooner but you decided to chase away every Alpha that showed even a hint of interest.” 

Crowley bit back a desire to growl. He’d turned down Alphas who weren’t a good match, who wanted him for the wrong reasons. He thought he’d have more time. 

“I could be alone,” he snapped. “Why do I have to get married?” 

His father, an Omega, gave him a pitying look. “Because, Anthony, Omegas aren’t safe without an Alpha.” 

Bullshit. It was all old fashioned bullshit. He did just fine for himself. He wasn’t weak and could hold his own. But he didn’t have that option anymore. Now he was meant to get married without even meeting the man he would be tied to. He’d bear his children and raise them and warm his bed, but there was no assurance that they would get along. 

There might never be any love. 

He strained in an attempt to hear even a wisp of his bethrothed’s voice, but he heard footsteps coming toward him instead. He scrambled up the stairs and back to his room, shutting the door quietly. 

Crowley hustled over to the window, trying to catch sight of their visitors. All he managed to see was a splash of blonde and a splash of dark hair beneath hats as his betrothed and whoever accompanied him made their way to their carriage. In the city, automobiles were becoming the popular thing, but those in Crowley’s family circle still believed in the efficacy of horses and carriages. 

He watched them disappear down the road, frowning. A knock came on his door a few moments later as his mother stepped inside. 

“Trying to catch a glimpse?” She asked. He didn’t miss the patches on her neck, covering her scent glands. 

“I wouldn’t have to if you would have introduced us.” Crowley leaned his head against the window and frowned at his reflection. 

“We discussed this, Anthony. We can’t take a chance that anything goes wrong between now and your wedding day.” 

What she meant was that she wouldn’t allow him to screw it up like she believed he’d messed up all the others. He was going to be married, whether he liked it or not. It made him sick. 

“You’re acting like it is the end of the world, but this is a good move for us, son. The Fells are an established, respected family. Aziraphale will treat you well.” She didn’t come any closer which was just fine with Crowley who reached up and scratched irritably at the scent patches on his own neck. He hated wearing them, hated walking around with one of his senses dulled, unable to share his scent or receive a scent in return. 

“I would have liked to see that for myself.” He wasn’t convinced that a man willing to essentially buy an Omega with promises would treat anyone well. 

“We all know how that would have gone.” 

Crowley clenched his hands into fists and pulled away from the window, walking to his bed, his nest . There were blankets bunched up, a collection of pillows, and hidden from his mother’s sight was a blouse from his sister. He lifted one of the blankets to his face and pressed into his scent, comforted by woodfire and cinnamon. 

“I came to tell you that we’ll have the staff begin to pack your things as soon as possible. The wedding is to be next week.” 

“Next week?” Crowley dropped the blanket and stared at his mother. “So soon?” There really would be no courtship, then. She genuinely intended to marry him off to a stranger. He thought this was all for show, a means to an end, a way to get him to consider courtship. Instead they were going to skip those rituals and send him straight to the marriage bed. 

He wanted to cry, but he wouldn’t give her the satisfaction. There was no point in crying in front of his Alpha mother. 

“And father is okay with this?” He was grasping at straws, out of options. 

“Yes. He is. He agrees with me that the best way to keep you safe is to have you married, and clearly the only way you’ll accept marriage is through force.” 

“I would like to be alone.” Crowley wanted to shift into his nest, bury himself in it. Cry. All of these things required his mother to leave. 

“Anthony…” 

“Please, mother.” 

She sighed, clearly annoyed. “Fine. Have your pity party, but first thing in the morning I’d like you to help direct the staff in packing. And we’ll need to get you scheduled for tailoring. You’ll need a suit. There’s a wedding to prepare for.” 

The resulting week drained the life out of him. His packing was overseen by his mother who decided what he was and wasn’t allowed to take to his new home. 

“Your husband won’t want you to bring pieces of your old nest,” she insisted. “You and he will build a new nest together.” 

“I’m bringing this,” Crowley growled, trying to keep his temper in check. He had one of his blankets clutched to his chest, one that barely had his father’s scent left on it from the last time he’d managed to get him to scent it for him. It was a comfort, one of the few he had. 

“He won’t like it.” 

“Then let him tell me that.” 

His mother gave up on that, but veto’ed a number of other things he wanted to bring. The major conflict came when he stepped into the bathroom and looked for his bottle of suppressants and couldn’t find them. They were meant to suppress his heats, lessen the strain of them. There was no point to a heat without a mate. 

“Mother?” He stepped into her sitting room and she looked up. “My suppressants were moved.” 

“Oh yes, those. You don’t need them anymore.” 

His stomach dropped. “What?” 

“You don’t need them right now. They’ll need to work out of your system anyway.” 

“Why?” He knew why, but he wanted to see if she’d say it to his face. She looked up from her book with a frown. 

“You’ll want to have your next heat.” 

“Because I’ll be married.” 

“Yes, because you’ll be married and you should be with your husband during it.” 

“And if I don’t want to?” He was on the edge of hysterics. His whole life was falling to pieces. His agency had been ripped away from him in a matter of weeks. It made Crowley feel more like a thing to be possessed, no longer a person. “If we don’t want to have children right away?” 

His mother laughed. “Oh darling. Talk to your husband.” 

Crowley couldn’t talk to his husband, could he? He didn’t know the man, the Alpha who he was supposed to marry in a couple of days. Who would be there with him through a heat that would hit in about a month if he wasn’t able to take suppressants, and it would be a terrible one. They always were after suppressing them for so long. 

The thing was, Crowley didn’t want to have children. At least not anytime soon. It was the way of the Omega in high society: get married, have children, raise children, please your Alpha. There was no room for an Omega to have their own hopes and dreams, their own path. It was dictated and he always questioned it, wondered why it had to be that way. Who made the choice? Who decided this was The Way and there could be no other? 

His wedding day came and he allowed himself to be dressed up and loaded into the carriage. His things had already been taken to his new home, supposedly unpacked and waiting for him. He’d slept terribly in his deconstructed nest and tried not to fidget in the carriage as his mother and father talked quietly. 

Oh, he wished he could scent. Wished his father would secretly remove the patches he kept on even in their home and let him be soothed by the smell of lavender. It wasn’t proper though. Scenting was supposed to be an intimate thing, something done between partners in their nest and nowhere else. He knew there were parents that scented their children, that there were places where people were rumored to never wear patches. Sometimes his father bucked tradition for the sake of his son’s comfort and gave him scented items when his mother didn’t know. 

But overall Crowley lived in a scentless world. He wondered what his husband would smell like, if he’d like it, if he’d be allowed to be scented. 

The ceremony was small, only a handful of family on either side along with a priest. He walked down the aisle reluctantly holding his mother’s arm, trying to take in his husband. Aziraphale Fell was dressed in non-traditional creams and browns. He looked to be only a little older than Crowley, with curling blonde hair and a soft face. He was round in all the ways Crowley was long and thin, an opposite and perhaps a compliment. 

Aziraphale smiled kindly as Crowley was left beside the altar across from him. Behind Aziraphale stood the other gentleman who had been with him the day Crowley caught a glimpse of them leaving. His mother had informed him it was Gabriel Fell, Aziraphale’s older brother, and the one who had reached out to arrange the whole thing. 

He didn’t pay much attention during the ceremony. His heart pounded in his chest and the sun on his face made him feel faint. He wanted to run and wondered how far he could get before he was caught and dragged back to this place, property of a stranger. 

The whole thing was mechanical. There was no passion, no love behind either of the vows they recited. They were strangers, and despite Aziraphale’s kind and sympathetic looks Crowley knew what he was in for. His life was over. The priest deemed them married, prayed a blessing over them, and they walked arm in arm down the aisle to the polite claps of their respective families. 

They had a moment alone, a moment of reprieve, when Aziraphale led him into the dressing room. 

“You look like you’re about to pass out, dear boy. Please. Sit.” He led him to a chair and Crowley sat on it, trying to remember to breathe. He was married. He glanced down at his finger and there was a ring on it he didn’t remember putting on. 

A glass of water was pressed into his hands. He took a sip and finally looked up at Aziraphale, noting the genuine concern in his sky blue eyes. 

“Would it help you to be scented?” Aziraphale asked, his hands fluttering nervously like he didn’t know what to do with them. 

“Yes.” Though he’d prefer his father’s familiar lavender to anything else right then, thinking about it made him remember that his father had betrayed him, too. 

He watched as Aziraphale reached up and tore the patches off of his neck, shoving them into a pocket. Crowley inhaled and caught the scent of cocoa and vanilla, his inner Omega crooning with delight as it realized it was an Alpha’s scent, and not just any Alpha but his Alpha. Breathing became a little easier as a sense of ease settled over him. 

“There you are,” Aziraphale murmured with a smile. “You’re looking a bit better already.” 

At least he was kind, Crowley thought. For now, perhaps. There was still later, when they were meant to go back to their marriage bed. He’d heard horror stories about Alphas on their wedding night, their eagerness to take an Omega, to breed them. He closed his eyes and tried to focus instead on the way the scent wrapped around him. 

“I’m afraid we ought to get changed and head to dinner, but I’d like to have a conversation about all of this a little later if you’re amenable.” 

“Of course,” Crowley rasped before he took another drink of water. 

“I also...well.” Aziraphale fidgeted before he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket. It was brown and cream tartan and he offered it to Crowley. “It isn’t much of a courtship gift I’ll admit but I’d like for you to have it, as a promise of more to come?” 

Crowley stared at it, then up at Aziraphale. “Oh.” Thoughtful Alpha, kind Alpha. He wanted his stupid primitive brain to shut up. 

He reached up and took it, immediately bringing it to his nose. As he suspected, it smelled like Aziraphale. He nuzzled his face into it without really meaning to and then blushed when he realized what he’d done. Crowley glanced up at Aziraphale who looked shyly delighted. 

“Come now. We ought to get dressed.” 

They did so with their backs turned to each other politely, changing from their formal attire into something a mite more comfortable for the dinner they were hosting. Crowley checked himself in the mirror and then, as a comfort, stuck the courtship gift he’d received in his pocket where he could easily touch it without drawing attention. 

Aziraphale offered him his arm and Crowley didn’t miss the reapplied patches. “Shall we?” 

“Do we have a choice?” 

Aziraphale shook his head. “I’m afraid not.” 

The dinner was held in the dining room of Aziraphale’s estate, which Crowley was seeing on the inside for the first time. It seemed like a cozy enough place, airy without lacking personality. The one thing he noticed on the way into the dining room were the cases of books that seemed to be everywhere. In the hallways, in side rooms, even a small bookcase in the corner of the dining room. 

He glanced curiously at Aziraphale before he was distracted by the guests seated around the table. Aziraphale took the head, Crowley took his right, sitting across from Gabriel. The next seats over were his parents across from one another, then a smattering of close family and friends mostly from Aziraphale’s side of things. Crowley gazed at the soup that was set in front of him and found his appetite lacking. 

Thankfully events like this were formal and shallow. There was no point in dredging up dissatisfaction with the way things had gone, or accusing his parents of selling him. He was married, it was legally binding, and an Omega throwing a fit wouldn’t change a damn thing. He nearly jumped when Aziraphale rested a hand over his and leaned around the corner to murmur in his ear. 

“I promise I’ll try to keep this as short as possible. I won’t let dinner drag on.” He sounded genuine, and his hand was warm. Crowley nodded and Aziraphale pulled back, indulging his brother in a conversation. Beside him, Crowley’s father reached over and squeezed his arm with a sympathetic look. Crowley glared at him and returned to picking at his meal, not missing the way his father’s face fell. 

He’d betrayed him just as much as his mother. His father should have understood. His father, who skirted the rules, who had always been kind, but who hadn’t spoken up when his mother announced his engagement. He should have fought harder. He should have protected him. 

“I need a moment,” Crowley whispered as his throat grew tight and he hated everything around him. The chatter was too much, the weight of his parent’s consideration was stifling, and he didn’t like the smug look on Gabriel’s face. He stood up abruptly from the table with a ‘tsk’ from his mother and let himself out of the room. He walked the hallways, not sure where he was going, wishing he could figure a way out

“Do you need some air dear?” 

Crowley glanced behind him to find a woman with coppery red hair and a kind, weathered face. She was a Beta. There were no scent patches on her neck, no scent glands at all, and Crowley envied her. What it must be to be one of the average ones, to be born without developing a secondary gender. Life was simpler, he assumed. The tension in his shoulders eased a little around her.

“Yes.” 

“This way, then.” She motioned for him to follow so he did and she led him to French doors that led to a patio. The cool air outside felt good and he slumped into one of the patio chairs. 

“Rough day, love?” 

“That’s an understatement.” Crowley rubbed his hands over his face. “Are you the housekeeper?” 

“Mmhm. That and more. I like to think my main job is to keep Aziraphale from getting lost in his books all day.” 

“Right.” He leaned his head back and gazed up at the sky that had begun to cloud over as evening fell. “Is he kind, your master?” 

“Ha! Yes, very, though don’t let him hear you refer to him as a master. He claims he’s the master of nothing.” 

“He’s the master of this house, though,” Crowley pointed out, frowning. 

“If you want to be proper about it, yes. I’m afraid Aziraphale doesn’t always adhere to what’s proper in your high society world.” 

“And you know who I am?” 

“Aziraphale’s new husband, Anthony Crowley. I’m sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Tracy.” 

“Madame Tracy, then,” Crowley murmured. 

“Oh, if you must.” 

Crowley reached into his pocket and pulled out the handkerchief, pressing it to his nose. The scent of it soothed him, reminded his distressed brain that he was as safe as he could be. He took a few deep breaths and then put it away. 

“They’ll be looking for you love,” Madame Tracy pointed out, voice gentle. “We should get you back inside.” 

“Back to the dog and pony show. I know.” Crowley reluctantly got up and followed her back inside. She led him back to the dining room where he dropped back into his seat and promptly ignored concerned looks from both his parents. He didn’t ignore the look from Aziraphale, his new husband offering him a soft smile. Crowley half-smiled in return though it was brittle and returned to dinner. 

There were toasts toward the end, Gabriel toasting his brother and Crowley’s mother toasting him. It was all a bunch of Alpha blustering, both of them beyond pleased with themselves for conspiring on the match. 

Dessert was last, then Aziraphale and Crowley stood and said farewell to the guests not staying the night. The only ones who would stay were Gabriel and Crowley’s parents before they’d make the short journey back to their respective homes. After, Crowley’s mother pulled him aside. 

“Your public duty is done,” she said with pride in her voice that made him sick. “Now you should be off to bed, hm?” 

“Right.” He pulled away from her and heard her sigh. 

“You’ll see, Crowley. One day you’ll thank me for this, you know. It isn’t as if I’ve married you off to some terrible tyrant.” 

“No,” Crowley replied as he turned and stared at her. “Maybe not. But you’ve stolen my autonomy from me and sent me off with a stranger. I’m half tempted to ask my new husband to kick you and father out on your asses, but I think he’s too polite for that.” He turned away and started walking toward the stairs, still no clue where he was going. He just wanted to get away from her. 

“I’ll not have you make me out to be a terrible mother!” She called out after him. “That isn’t fair!” 

There was nothing else to say. Crowley ascended the stairs into the darkness of the evening, prowling the halls. He eventually stepped into a room that appeared to be a small library. He drew his fingertips over the spines as he walked along the stacks, trying to rein his emotions in. Reaching up with his free hand he scratched at his patches, uncomfortable, frustrated. 

“I see you’ve found my favorite room.” 

He spun around and found Aziraphale standing just inside the doorway, hands behind his back, a kind smile on his face. “The full library is downstairs, of course. This is my personal collection.” 

“You like books, then.” Crowley looked back at the titles. 

“I do. There’s a lot to be gained from literature. Do you read much?” 

“Not unless I’m forced.” Crowley wasn’t a fan of reading, sometimes he had trouble following small text. Other times, words seemed to be jumbled. It made the whole process unpleasant so he didn’t bother with it. 

“Do you like being read to?” 

Crowley considered it and then shrugged, turning to walk back toward Aziraphale who stood in the same place as he had been when he first entered. “Can’t say I remember being read to much beyond stories as a child.” 

“Perhaps I’ll read to you sometime, if you’d like.” Aziraphale watched him approach, uncertainty in the knit of his brow. “Would you like to take your patches off?” 

Crowley frowned. “I don’t know. I usually always wear them unless I’m going to bed.” 

“Oh.” Aziraphale mirrored his frown. “Well, once the company is gone you’re welcome to wear them or not wear them as you see fit, wherever you are in the house. I don’t wear mine unless it is expected of me.” 

“Really?” That piqued Crowley’s curiosity. He’d always thought wearing the patches was counter intuitive. How was he supposed to know how others were feeling? How was he supposed to soothe or be soothed when his scent was hidden away? It made things far more difficult to navigate at times and the thought of being free in his own household was appealing. 

“Mmhm.” Aziraphale’s frown shifted into a pleased smile. “I’m not a fan of our high society rules in general, if I’m honest.” 

Crowley reached up and immediately ripped off the patches, sighing in relief as he found his own scent comforting. It was a piece of himself that he could share with the world and he hated hiding it away. Aziraphale’s whole expression softened as he stepped closer, reaching up to remove his patches. 

“Campfire and spice,” Aziraphale murmured thoughtfully. 

“You’re cocoa and vanilla.” 

“Oh? Madame Tracy says I smell like warm hot chocolate to her.” 

“She’s a Beta,” Crowley pointed out. “How does she know?” 

“Do you think Betas don’t have noses my dear?” Aziraphale chuckled. “They might not be impacted by it like we are, but they can still smell us. Difficult not to, I imagine.” 

“I guess that makes sense. My household never employed any.” 

“Really?” 

“Only Omegas. All patched, too. My mother insisted on it.” 

“Your mother sounds delightful.” 

Crowley snorted at Aziraphale’s tone. “Yes, well, you met her.”

“I wish this could have all gone differently, you know.” 

“How do you mean?” 

“I insisted to my brother I ought to court you properly, that we shouldn’t be forced into such a quick marriage. Even a short engagement would have been enough. It feels...well. Wrong that I didn’t get a chance to win you over.” Aziraphale glanced down and then back up into Crowley’s eyes. “I hope I get a chance to make it up to you.” 

“Oh.” Crowley blushed, face warm. He’d never had an Alpha express that all so plainly before. Most preferred to play the games of courtship, showing interest without stating it. Aziraphale on the other hand had come straight out with it and it made Crowley’s Omega purr with delight. He wanted to be won, wanted to be wooed. 

“Come on, we ought to be to bed. I’ll show you where the bedroom is and then I must make sure my brother isn’t poking around before I join you.” He led him down the hallway and through a door into a large bedroom. There was a chaise lounge near the window with a bookcase beside it, a large bed with an ornate wooden headboard, an armoire, a chest of drawers, and a large mirror. 

Off of the bedroom appeared to be a small washroom. The whole thing was only slightly smaller than Crowley’s parent’s bedroom and it smelled distinctly like Aziraphale. 

“Make yourself at home. There should be pajamas for you in the drawers over there,” he pointed. “I’ll be back shortly.” He left. 

Crowley walked around the room and then walked over to the window, peering out into the sprawling back garden. The bedroom was lit by an oil lamp on a table near the bed, the flame flickering. It was warm, a wood stove going in the corner keeping it such, and Crowley went to sit on the edge of the bed that faced it. 

What was he supposed to do then? Part of him wondered if he ought to strip and present himself to his new husband for the taking. He’d never had sex before, never saw the need or the point in taking the risk. Nor had he ever been interested in someone. He’d touched himself of course, but he imagined sex was something much more than that. 

His stomach twisted in knots at the thought of having it that night with a stranger. Even Aziraphale’s scent couldn’t soothe him. It was an Alpha scent, and a pleasant one at that, but Crowley’s brain still began to dissolve into panic. He had to do his private duty, which was what his mother had alluded to earlier. It hardly seemed fair. 

Aziraphale found him like that, arms wrapped around his waist. 

“Oh, my dear, whatever is the matter? Did they not unpack your pajamas?” Aziraphale walked over and sat on the edge of the bed, his nose wrinkled. “You’re distressed. What’s wrong?” 

“I’ve never had sex before,” Crowley stuttered out. “And I...I know we have to but I don’t. I -” he wasn’t sure what else to say. I don’t want to have it with you and I don’t want to be fucked by a stranger both seemed like the wrong thing to say to his newly minted husband. It was his duty, but why did it have to be this way? Why were Omegas expected to do this? Why was it acceptable? 

“That’s what is worrying you.” Aziraphale rested a hand against the nape of his neck and leaned in to nuzzle at Crowley’s temple, scenting him. The smell was stronger and far more soothing when it came from Aziraphale who seemed so calm in the face of Crowley’s distress. He leaned into it. “My dear, we’ll not do anything until you’re ready.” 

“What?” Crowley looked at him and Aziraphale shrugged, reaching up to brush some of Crowley’s hair out of his face. 

“You’re my husband,” Aziraphale pointed out. “And in those vows, I vowed to protect you and keep you. Taking you by force breaks those, does it not?” 

Crowley blinked. Admittedly he’d been panicking during the vows, but he never thought about them that seriously. 

“We can talk about it, of course. I’m open to discussing it with you, answering questions. While you may lack experience I do not, though that’s not to say I have a lot. I have had a couple previous partners, but whatever you and I figure out we’ll figure out together.” 

The knots in Crowley’s stomach loosened some. They didn’t have to have sex. They might share a bed, but he wasn’t going to be forced into anything. 

“Thank you,” Crowley whispered, reaching for Aziraphale’s hand and holding it between both of his. Aziraphale smiled. 

“No need to thank me for being decent, Anthony.” 

“Crowley,” Crowley corrected. “I prefer my surname, if that’s alright.” 

“Crowley.” Aziraphale nodded. “Perfect. Now, would you like to get into your pajamas so we might get some rest?” 

They changed into their respective pajamas and got under the blankets. Aziraphale’s bed was soft and the blankets warm. Crowley snuggled in, nuzzling into a pillow that smelled like Aziraphale. He was surrounded by the Alpha’s scent and a sleepy part of his brain pointed out that his scent was missing, that it should be just as deeply embedded in the blankets and pillows as Aziraphale’s was. 

“Tomorrow I’ll show you your room,” Aziraphale murmured. “There’s a space just for you, for now. I thought you might be more comfortable that way while we get to know each other.” 

Crowley’s Omega howled in distaste at the thought of being pulled from its Alpha’s warm bed and scented sheets. But his rational mind was soothed by it, even if he felt a little bit like he had failed some sort of test. It was a hard line to ride, one that separated his quiet yearning from his belief that he ought to know the man more before jumping into bed with him. 

Aziraphale was being kind and thoughtful, but Crowley wondered if he was worth the trouble.