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As Christmas and exam season crept closer, Eve found herself watching Dr Crowley more closely than ever. He seemed to have an instinct for when to push and when to drop one of his rare words of praise. "Better" was the most frequent. A grudging "That'll do" from Dr Crowley was considered high praise, worth weeks of Dr Fell's beaming delight in everything, and possibly cherished even more for its rarity. The one time he admitted that a brilliant, near-perfect essay was "Not bad" stunned half the rumormill into shocked silence for a full 27 minutes, and actually overtook the discussion of Dr Fell's explosion for almost a day and a half.

He also seemed to know somehow if you were trying your hardest or just coasting. If you were trying, even if you struggled, he had an incredible patience for questions and explanations, and she was learning more than she'd ever thought she would.

It was the same instinct or skill or just observation, she supposed, that had made him notice a footsore stranger and make room for her. The same - dare she say kindness? - that made him suffer embarrassment from his husband rather than put her in an awkward, embarrassing situation. One that might have made her feel cornered into staying in Botany rather than choosing freely.

She was glad she had stayed, on the whole, and she spent her time with the rumours seeing just how deftly he navigated them, never lying but not cutting through them with the obvious truth either. She could have solved the hole, the why, that the rumours circled around, but it wasn't her secret to tell, so she bit her lip and said nothing.

When Dr Fell dropped that he and dear Anthony would be attending the university wide pre-Christmas celebration dinner together, she greeted it with internal relief. That would be one thing off her mind and she could focus on the exams more afterwards.

***

Crowley only sighed when Aziraphale brought it up. "Yes, all right, angel. I don't suppose the crackers are avoidable either?" His nose wrinkled as if he could already smell the acrid tang of the cracker snaps going off. They wouldn't harm him after all, they were just a reminder of ancient, not exactly pleasant, memories.

"I had a word. They aren't coming out until the end, and we'll be close to the doors. You can slip out for the worst of it."

"Appreciate it." He settled deeper into the old sofa and draped an arm behind Aziraphale's shoulders. "And I'll make sure you get all the best desserts in exchange. How's that for a trade?"

"You," Aziraphale chuckled, beaming back at him and leaning into the half embrace, "are a very wily old serpent, and you know me all too well. Temptation accomplished."

***

The rumour-mill skyrocketed with the news that they would get to see Dr Fell's husband at last, and a host of last minute bets were placed. Even Dr Crowley had a couple of bets on him now, perhaps out of a sense of completeness.

The students rehashed everything that Dr Fell has let slip, comparing it to everyone they could think of who might possibly fit, and only wishing they knew more about the husband's appearance than "tall" and "lovely to look at" because that would make eliminating people easier. After all, Dr Crowley fitted the description, of all people, but they eliminated him on the grounds of not being kind or sweet or nice, and certainly not being anything like Dr Fell.

Even the two shunned students from the stair brigade got wind of the news and spent some time worrying whether it was their only chance to apologise to both Dr Fell and his husband at once, and if so, how, and how nasty the husband might be about it. He can't be that bad, they decided, not if he's married to Dr Fell. Not like if they had to apologise to Dr Crowley, or something.