Lord Aziraphale Fell knew his marriage to have been a mistake the moment he first laid eyes upon his husband at the church - which, coincidentally, was also the first time he saw him at all.
(It had not been a love match, that much the Esteemed Reader can surely guess. A dispute over land between his brother Gabriel and the Prince of Hellshire had been the cause of it, which could allegedly only be settled by marriage between the families.
Aziraphale had been volunteered on the Fells' side, and, entirely unsurprisingly, not granted a veto.)
Baron Anthony J. Crowley strode down the aisle, and all fanciful hopes Aziraphale might have had of growing to love one another foundered on the rocks of impossibility, and vanished.
Not on his side, naturally, but the Baron... he was as furious as he was beautiful, slim and sharp and at least a decade Aziraphale's junior.
One might call him the loveliest creature to grace the earth, in his groom's garments of deepest midnight black, if distaste was not written into every line of his face as he stepped up to take his place beside him.
Oh, it could not work, could never work. Crowley was young and dashing, and now he was bound to Aziraphale, aged, stuffy and boring Aziraphale, and clearly against his will also.
Dread pooled in Aziraphale's stomach as his hand was taken, and he feared he might sicken.
Crowley took one look at him, and then away, another grimace pulling his features apart.
Filled with shame, Aziraphale hung his head, and let the words wash over him. He had known he might not immediately love his spouse-to-be, but had hoped, at least...
It scarcely mattered, what he had hoped. Baron Crowley was marrying far beneath his worth for a piece of land, a pearl thrown before a bookish old sow, and they all knew it.
Vows were spoken in a daze, while Crowley spat them beside him. The kiss was a formality, close-lipped and stiff, and Aziraphale closed his eyes to not see the disgust on his husband's face.
(Though he still felt the tense shaking of his hand where it was placed against his cheek, and wished with all his heart he would not.)
They turned to the crowd, and Aziraphale only just managed a smile and to retain his tears as Crowley dragged him down the aisle.
Gabriel beamed at him like the sun as they passed him and Prince Beelzebub in zir seat of honour, and Aziraphale vowed never to forgive him for this arrangement.
There were ways to be cruel to Aziraphale without another being caught in crossfire, and not even brotherly hatred should inspire a match as unfavourable as this.
(He ought to thank the Lord that Hellshire had not taken it as an insult, to be frank.)
The newlywed couple was near silent at the feast, the only exchange concluding as follows:
"You do not appear to be eating, Lord Fell."
"...I find myself with little appetite, Baron Crowley."
And that was all, for the rest of the evening, until the Prince's entourage set out for their return to Hellshire, and Aziraphale and Crowley were ushered to the chambers that would now be theirs to share in wedded bliss.
"You are quite lucky, little brother." Michael murmured as they passed her. "Quite the apparition, is he not? Perhaps it is a shame I was not offered for this match, after all."
"The wedding night won't be too much of a hardship." Uriel added, a mocking smile on her face, loud enough that Crowley overheard and tensed along with Aziraphale.
Naturally, he would. Naturally.
And then they were alone.
There was nothing for it but do his duty by the family, he supposed, and undid his cravatte.
"Don't." Baron Crowley rasped, before throwing himself heavily into one of the armchairs by the fire, uncorking the port and taking a generous swallow directly from the decanter.
Aziraphale disapproved. "If we are to do what shall be done," he informed his new husband (husband, oh, blessed and damned be) primly as he shed his coat, "I would rather have you-"
"Done?" The Baron laughed roughly, much coarser than the measured tones of polite company allowed - one must assume this was common among married men, to drop the pretenses. "Nothing will be done, Lord Fell. I'll not force myself upon an unwilling husband, cease undressing."
Aziraphale huffed a little breath of relief. "Oh, thank you, Baron." He forced out, smiling tentatively. "I... I was worrying."
"Despite whatever impression of me you may have received from unknown sources, I am not a monster." He took another long swig of the decanter, then, regarding Aziraphale with an eye both weary and wary, offering it to him. "And we are... wed, now. I do believe you ought to call me by name."
"Anthony?" Aziraphale tried, pouring himself a glass as civilised persons did.
The Baron shuddered. "Crowley, if you please."
Aziraphale nodded, chastised. Of course, such intimacy would be unseemly given the circumstances.
"I fear I know very little of you, Ba- Crowley." He attempted some idle conversation. "I do not believe we have ever met in the social circuits."
Crowley grunted, and unfolded one gangly arm to retrieve the decanter.
"We ought to. Well. There is no reason this cannot be a mutually pleasant arrangement, if we only determine the proper shape of it...?" Aziraphale attempted. "In fact, there is no reason that we might not become fast frien-"
"No reason? There are about a thousand, and one worse than the other!" A harsh chuckle, another swig. "Let me propose to you the following: I leave you to your books, and we show ourselves together only the minimal amount of times required. We need not sleep in the same bed, nor even take our meals together. Never fear, you'll not lose your freedom to me."
A terrible, port-soaked smile. "Nor your virginity, poor little angel."
It was a quite outrageous presumption, but not exactly an incorrect one; so Aziraphale made no further comment save a scandalised expression that seemed to amuse Crowley greatly.
(Ugly smiles all, cynical, furious things, but better than the grimaces, at least.)
They spent the rest of the night drinking in silence.
Aziraphale feared this was a sinister omen towards the future of their wedded life...
...and time would prove him right in that.
Aziraphale let his gaze roam across the crowd of dancing couples, and felt melancholy rise up from the depths of his heart.
Here was the Marquise of Device, young Lady Anathema, chirping laughter in her husband's arms, even as he trod onto her toes with a bumbling force that made Aziraphale wince in sympathy; there Captain Shadwell, returned from the war at long last, leading Madame de Tracy in a gentle waltz; beside them, Dark Abbess Mary Loquacious and Sister Ethel Taciturn, representing the Satanic Clergy and quite scandalous in their dancing, as befitting members of their order; even Michael's usual sharp temper appeared mollified in dance, though she and Duke Hastur were clearly embroiled in a sportsmanlike little bet as to who might provoke Count Ligur's invitation more often 'ere the end of the night.
(The Duke had had more dances, though Michael's had stretched on longer; Aziraphale suspected the end result might well be a draw.)
There was happiness abounds... and Aziraphale was stiffly situated in a corner of the room, feeling none of it.
Before his ill-fated wedding, this would hardly have been a concern. Bookish romance suited Aziraphale far more than the substantial kind, and previous balls had seen him making excuses early in favour of an evening spent quietly reading, if he had been invited at all.
Now, he remained, Crowley's slender hand situated at his elbow with the air of one shackled there against their will, and longed for the easy companionship he observed before him.
It was paramount they make an appearance, paramount they do it together; and yet, seeing as he and Crowley had hardly spent more than a handful of hours in each other's company in the fortnight following their wedding, it was also a mortifying ordeal.
Their conversation so far had consisted entirely of Aziraphale's hesitant query after Crowley's preferred authors, only to receive the terse reply that he did not read for pleasure.
Since Aziraphale's life revolved entirely around the books he read and restored - his siblings might mock him for it, but Aziraphale had long learned to let their words slide off him like water off of... whatever manner of thing water was in the habit of sliding off of - that had derailed any further attempts at more intimate communication with such definite firmness, it had very nearly been physically painful.
An attempt towards inquiring into Crowley's business dealings returned a few brief sentences that might as well have been complete gobbledygook for all they told him. Aziraphale had no head for numbers or the economy of land ownership, and whatever Crowley did in the Prince's name was far beyond him.
Now they stood in tense silence, attempting to provide a suitable facade so as not to spark rumours regarding the failure of their marriage, scarcely a fortnight in; but Aziraphale suspected they had failed on that account the moment they had stepped into the ballroom, with all the warm affection usually exhibited between Aziraphale and his siblings.
(That is, to say, extraordinarily little.)
Aziraphale sighed, and took a moment to observe his husband; God Knows he scarcely had opportunity to do so, considering Crowley took great pains to evade his company.
Oh, but he was a vision. Aziraphale happened to be in possession of an excellent pair of eyes that only rarely required reading glasses, and as anyone with such a commodity, he could hardly help making note of Baron Anthony J. Crowley's beauty.
Hair as soft as silken ribbons, but curling like hungry flames; bright, heavy-lidded eyes of molten gold; a sharp, elegant face, and finely-boned hands.
Aziraphale longed to touch, to look, to take and hold. He refused to believe everyone else at this dreary ball did not feel the same, not with Crowley so fetching in a crimson gown, cut to just this side of what was considered daring this season.
He quietly thanked the Almighty for Crowley's obvious unease at being forced by propriety to link his gloved arm with Aziraphale's - if he were as comfortable as he faintly remembered him when alcohol had loosened the high-strung stiffness, Aziraphale would surely succumb to the pull to...
...oh, he should not think such things.
Crowley and he had been forced together by the cruel machinations of their siblings, the simple fact that Aziraphale was a terrible old lech who could not hold his wandering thoughts to a higher standard than this... well, that was entirely inconsequential.
The soft tremble of clenched muscles could be felt even through glove and sleeve, and Aziraphale felt guilt rise in him. Just because he would, now that he had had awhile to get more closely acquainted with the idea, find a consummation of their marriage... not displeasurable... did not mean Crowley felt the same.
(And besides, Aziraphale bore in his heart no uncertain measure of romanticism, which tutted its disapproval at the thought of bedding a man he knew little of and - from what he had seen so far - liked less.)
Crowley cleared his throat beside him in the uncomfortable manner of one forced to break a tense silence.
"Would you..." He forced out, as if it physically pained him. "Like to..."
A feeble gesture at the twirling couples.
"You. Well. Appeared to me as if you might wish..."
"Oh!" Aziraphale startled into understanding. "Oh no, no, I couldn't. I fear I am a miserable dancer. Barely manage a gavotte."
"Hng." Crowley grunted vaguely.
Silence returned, like the merciless ebb and flow of the sea, only staved off momentarily.
"But it was good of you to offer." Aziraphale conceded stiffly.
"Ngk." A slightly more pleased grunt.
Splendid, Aziraphale thought bitterly to himself. This now qualified as the most amicable conversation he and his husband had ever conducted.
"Aaaanthony!" A voice broke through his reverie, drawling the name in a near obscene manner. An American, dear Lord. "How gooood to see you!"
Crowley's shoulders shifted incrementally into a defensive curl.
"Lady Carmine!" He greeted nonetheless, smile broad and false, offering a delicate hand to her. "I had not heard of your return to the country. How are Dr. Sable and White?"
"Well, well." The Lady in red fur waved dismissively. "I hear you married at long last, Anthony. Good to hear you have come to your senses in regards to-"
"I have." Crowley's voice rose marginally, and he stepped aside to reveal Aziraphale. "Lord Fell, Lady Carmine Zuigiber of the Isle of War. She has an estate overseas."
"Charmed." Aziraphale bowed.
"Hum." Lady Carmine said, in the tone one would say disappointing.
Aziraphale was quite familiar with the sound, and took it with the stoic bearing of one who has been judged and found lacking all their life. There was nothing the Lady might think of him that his siblings had not voiced, and his mind retained and repeated tenfold.
He smiled placidly, ready to engage in meaningless platitudes until the Lady grew bored of him and moved on to more engaging-
"Pardon?" Crowley said - nay, hissed - into the silence, slinging his arm tighter into the crook of Aziraphale's. "I failed to quite catch your meaning, Zuigiber."
A terrible smile, all teeth.
The Lady blanched lightly. And it was her good right to do so, Aziraphale was tempted to do the same, and he was not the intended target of Crowley's ire.
"Charmed, I said." She sniffed airily. "A pleasure to meet the man who has Anthony's heart."
Quickly after that, she made her excuses, and slipped away from them.
"That was... very kind of you." Aziraphale said, apropos of - seemingly - very little.
Crowley quirked one brow.
"To defend me. It was very nearly nice of you."
(And it was. Few people had ever done so, if any at all.)
"Nonsense." Crowley huffed bashfully. "I am not in the habit of doling out niceties, and though I will grant you that I am many things, kindness does not count among them."
Silence descended again, but a kinder, softer type, and Aziraphale found himself warmed by a sudden fondness; a sensation not wholly unfamiliar to him.
He was by and large a solitary creature, content to find his closest acquaintances between the covers of a book. But even he was not immune to the fallacy of fondness, and it had led him into the warm embraces of a few selected friends.
Crowley might soon count among them; though he was insofar without precedent, as his other friends were by and large of the fairer sex - Lady Eve, Madame de Tracy - and therefore did not enrapture him the way Crowley did.
It seemed a complicated matter, moreso with the additions of carnal interest and their farce of a marriage, so Aziraphale dismissed it for the time being.
It would not do to fret over such nonsense, nor to find himself growing fond of a man so brazen and solitary, yet still with a core of goodness deep inside that Aziraphale found rather-
No, no, banish the thought! It would not do.
"Oh, this is patently ridiculous." Crowley murmured. "We must talk of something. Talk of your books, if you will, your profession. Simply talk."
Aziraphale was no fool, and he saw this as the olive branch of tentative acquaintance that it was; and from the man who had refused his suggestion of friendship not a fortnight past, who had dismissed books carelessly.
Truly a good man, Aziraphale thought, as he related a pointless, dissociated ramble on the topic of rare books he would dearly love to acquire, and, between this and the furtive glances tracing Crowley's collarbones - near indecently exposed in these garments - his earlier firm convictions quickly grew weak and brittle, and, long before the ball came to a close, naught but faint memories remained.
They parted that night in something not yet, but almost near friendship, and retired - as usual - to separate rooms.
It would be the first occasion on which Aziraphale performed... certain rites that, soon, would become quite commonplace for him.
Now, naturally the following was not the type of concern one would ever address in polite company, or, indeed, polite writing; nevertheless, it was the shameful truth of the matter, and ought to be mentioned so it may be accurately gauged how high Crowley had risen in Aziraphale's esteem.
(We trust it will be kept in confidence.)
An empty marriage bed allowed for certain ministrations upon oneself, to stave off the keen loneliness of the darkest hours - the Esteemed Reader surely knows our meaning well; and Aziraphale, when he happened to lay hands upon himself in the night, found his thoughts turning frequently to Crowley from that first occasion onwards.
Crowley, and his elegant fingers, wicked mouth, shapely derierre, those collarbones, oh, those collarbones; and once, even, his slender ankles.
It was only proper - God Forbid he think of men other than his husband, after all - but that did little to assuage his guilt.
His affections towards Crowley were growing steadily more tender by daylight, and heated under the soft glow of moonlight upon the sheets; but one-sided and unrequited at any hour. Aziraphale felt near ashamed to harbour them, and never more so than when he lay spent, longing desperately for the warmth of another beside him.
On some nights, his dreams thereafter featured Crowley while away on business, entwining himself with faceless bodies and laughing into their skin at the thought of the bookish spinster he had married aflush with desire for him.
What delusions, he might tell his bedpartner, to think I would ever lay hand on him in such a manner.
I nearly pity the man.
(Oh, he would never, Aziraphale knew in his waking moments, after the night terrors had passed. Even if Crowley took others to his bed - possible, all too possible for Aziraphale's aching heart - he would not speak ill of or besmirch his husband's honour.
He was a good man, Aziraphale knew. Too good for the likes of him.)
Aziraphale and his siblings were, broadly, on dissatisfied terms - Gabriel most so, since the wedding, though relations were equally strained with the others.
Propriety demanded the occasional taking of tea together, and Aziraphale was well-accustomed to the mockery that descended onto him on these occasions.
However, a visitation bought him peace in his workshop for awhile, so he kept a stiff upper lip and endured.
Aziraphale, for all his apparent gentleness, was well-versed in the art of unflinchingly turning the other cheek when it came to the casual cruelty of his siblings - he had rather surmised this behaviour was exceedingly common in families for long years of his childhood, and had steeled himself against it.
Crowley might have accompanied him, but Aziraphale had been loathe to ask. His dear husband was ever so busy with his ledgers and numbers and neverending reports, or he would surely take more time to converse with Aziraphale, would he not?
(They were not hostile, no, and Aziraphale had his burgeoning fondness to grapple with, but interactions remained a rarity. They did not as much as take meals together, confined to their separate studies, only meeting on occasion on the corridors.
Aziraphale's desperation lived off these brief, precious moments, truth be told.)
Besides, he would not wish the horror of tea with Michael upon anyone else - would not even wish it upon himself, but needs must.
Aziraphale took a dainty sip from his cup, and wished himself back to his library.
Michael was perched opposite him, with Duke Hastur and Count Ligur to her left, and Cousins Uriel and Sandalphon to her right.
Gabriel had begged off, and he'd likely had the right of it, in Aziraphale's opinion.
The fine selection of scones presented a single redeeming feature, though Cousin Sandalphon had already made more than one pointed comment upon Aziraphale's generous physique, and it would not do to antagonize him. The man had a detestable temper at times.
"Assuredly." Aziraphale hummed vaguely, as Duke Hastur expunged upon a drainage issue in the pipes of his estate. "I see."
Oh, to be back among his books, or, better yet, meet Crowley on the corridor and relate to him the agony of this meeting - surely, terrible relations one could bond over? - why, that would be-
"Brother." Michael interrupted his fond dreams sharply. "I was only just wondering; pray tell, how does married life treat you?"
A sweet, poisonous smile. "Well, I do hope?"
Michael surely knew it did not. The servants' chatter would be aware they did not bed nor dine together, and Michael was a keen connoisseur of rumours.
"As well as could be expected, given the underlying... pragmatism of our match." Aziraphale responded diplomatically.
"I could not have wished for a worthier husband." He added, and found, to his own surprise, that a note of sincerity had crept into his carefully neutral tone. "Cr- the Baron is... a true gentleman."
This statement garnered quite unusual response; Sandalphon huffed, Uriel pressed a hand to her mouth, Hastur and Ligur scoffed, and Michael...
...Michael outright laughed.
"A gentleman, Aziraphale?" She tittered. "Oh, surely you must know? Your Baron is a mongrel."
The word was spat into his face, and Aziraphale flinched.
"A legitimized bastard son, with only half a head for business and a sliver of an inheritance to his name. The Prince merely has a personal fondness for him, and well ze must have to arrange this match!"
Michael sneered down at him, the rest of the round joining her.
"You have little value, of course, third child and... being as you are, there is a plethora of matters I might elaborate upon."
Aziraphale's fingers barely even clenched around the porcelain. This was familiar territory, and, strangely, he had anticipated the moment the conversation would arrive in it. Let her mock him, it mattered not.
"But even so... I know not what Gabriel was thinking, bartering you away so cheaply. Favour with the Prince, I suspect. Even then, having that false gutter snake in the house was a steep price to pay!"
"Hellshire is quite pleased you took him off our hands." Count Hastur added gamely. "Always a strange one. Wears tinted glasses even when he has no need of them. An upjumped bastard child, we were glad to be rid of him."
Now. Now, a hairline fissure in the saucer. Aziraphale's jaw clenched tightly.
"I counsel compassion." Uriel intoned serenely. "Do not forget: the poor creature is bound to Aziraphale! A cruel fate indeed."
That they spoke so of Crowley near made Aziraphale's blood boil. What did he care if Crowley was the heir to a throne or a dungheap? That hardly made him less of the man he was, kind at heart and endearingly blunt, and... oh, loveable, yes, one could surely find oneself loving him!
"It is not cruel, fate or otherwise." Aziraphale stated decisively. "We have arranged ourselves well, and-"
"Unsurprising, that you would speak such." Ligur grinned darkly, and one could guess the distant relation to Crowley, except his smiles, however sinister, were never quite as this.
"I'm sure his pleasing shape rather sweetens the deal on your end, does it not? Always said, his true talent might've been put to better use in a brothel than the palace!"
The round broke out in laughter, and a strange fury uncoiled in Aziraphale's chest, as a bloodhound catching a whiff of its quarrel and bursting forward to tear it to shreds.
Crowley had confronted the Lady Carmine.
Aziraphale ought to return that favour, it would be terribly remiss of him to do otherwise.
It was merely a question of good manners, was it not?
Aziraphale stood with utmost calm, daintily balancing his cup of tea in one hand...
...and then he upended it over Ligur's head, taking care to extend his pinky as he did so.
"Manners." He stated mildly, setting the empty cup back on the saucer. "Really, such uncouth implications in the company of ladies. For shame."
He was, however, barely heard over the pandemonium which broke loose immediately as the first drop came upon the Count's scalp.
Ligur gasped and flailed under the heated liquid, and the Duke shrieked on his behalf. Sandalphon and Uriel stumbled to their feet, both finding some very choice admonishing words to ordain Aziraphale with.
And Michael, without a word, grabbed the pitcher of water and retaliated by drenching Aziraphale with it.
A moment of tense quiet.
"Right. If that is all." Aziraphale primly tugged at his sodden coat, utterly devoid of sympathy for Count Ligur's quiet whimpers. "Sister, cousins, it has been lovely. We must never do this again."
And with that said, soaked through to the bone but head held high, Aziraphale removed himself from the lounge.
"Well. I daresay that went down not unlike a balloon fabricated of lead."
Aziraphale let out a little gasp of surprise - and perhaps, in part delight.
"Crowley!" He turned from where he had been situated by the fire in his still lightly damp shirtsleeves. "I... well, I presume you've heard."
(There could be little other reason for a visit of his to these rooms, which they had not shared since their wedding night.)
Aziraphale fully expected chastisement. He had behaved with little decorum and less tact, and, as wedded men, this reflected on Crowley as well as himself. It was one thing to have veiled words with a socialite, another entirely to pour hot tea upon one's relation.
"I have." Crowley's expression remained unreadable as he sauntered over to the bed, retrieving a blanket.
Draping it gently over Aziraphale's shoulders - and, oh, he had been feeling the damp cold more keenly than he'd let on - Crowley said, if not purred, a sly smile spreading upon his lips:
"Should I say thank you?"
"Best not to." Aziraphale sniffed primly, arranging himself more comfortably under the swathes of warm fabric. "I've behaved abominably."
Some sound very near delight escaped Crowley.
"Lord Fell, what you've done is a medal of honour upon your character!" He exclaimed, mirth breaking out like the new dawn upon his face, gleeful as a child. "I may be the babe born out of wedlock, but you, milord..."
An exaggerated bow that startled a laugh from Aziraphale's chest.
"...oh, you are a bastard worth being married to!"
He collapsed in an armchair, shaking with helpless laughter and fiendish schadenfreude, and Aziraphale could not help the burst of affection in his heart at the sight.
"Oh, cease!" He huffed, but it was weak and through a smile if his own.
"A toast!" Crowley crowed, retrieving the decanter. "To tea - and to you, Lord Fell! Oh, how I wish I might've seen Count Ligur's face..."
Aziraphale accepted the glass, and allowed a minuscule chuckle to escape him.
He might've known. Crowley was not one to care greatly for reputation.
"Aziraphale," he corrected warmly.
"Hmm?" Crowley paused, glass against his lips, golden eyes blinking at him over tinted glasses.
"Well. You insist I address you Crowley, sans honorific." Aziraphale sipped delicately, savouring the fine spirits, and glad for this occasion to take drinks together once more, after their disastrous wedding night. "May I not demand the same from you?"
"A-aziraphale," Crowley spoke then, though Aziraphale wondered whyever his voice had seen fit to be so raw and crack and stumble over it.
It was merely a name. A name that, spoken such, left Aziraphale's heart soaring - and his thighs subtly crossed - but not one that should hold such weight to Crowley, surely?
"Precisely." Aziraphale took another satisfied sip. "Oh, I daresay Michael mocked incorrectly - we are performing splendidly in this marriage!"
"Ngk." Crowley said, and drained his glass.
"I've a gift for you," were Crowley's first words upon returning from one of his lengthier business engagements, striding into Aziraphale's room with little preamble.
"A gift?" Aziraphale failed to conceal his surprise. "For me?"
"For who else, pray tell?" Crowley growled sardonically, shedding his travelling cloak. "I see no other husband of mine in these chambers, of course it is for you!"
A warmth grew in Aziraphale's heart at the blunt speech he had sorely missed, and a fiercer heat in other regions as overcoat and vest joined it, leaving Crowley in his shirtsleeves.
"Well. Thank you, my dear." Aziraphale intoned, unthinking.
The sudden stiffness in Crowley's bearing revealed his blunder to him, and his heart, only just warmed, now cooled and sank.
My dear boy, lovely boy, my dear, dear Crowley, was what he gasped into the pillows while caught in the thrall of his fantasies, oh, he should not address him so, this man who would not even hear his given name from Aziraphale's lips, what had he done, what had he said...
"You've not even opened it yet." Crowley broke through his panicked thoughts. "Thank me after."
And then, after a pause, as if deliberating: "...angel."
It was spoken with a hint of mockery, a reminder of their wedding night more occupied with the bottle than each other, but, oh.
Aziraphale near fell to pieces at the sound of it.
With shaking fingers, he undid the bow of the parcel, so he would not be required to speak; and gasped, once the contents were revealed.
A volume of Mistress Nutter's writings, thought lost in the fire that took her homestead; visibly singed, but possible to restore, and precious beyond all measure.
"Crowley..." He breathed, carefully pressing the book to his chest. "How... how... I have searched for nigh on decades, it would've taken a miracle..."
"Or a pact with the devil." Crowley countered darkly. "A demonic miracle, how about that? It's a cursed witch's book, after all."
But a hint of a smirk belied his words, and showed there was good humour in them.
"Oh, do not say such things, you wicked man!" Aziraphale chided with a laugh, and stood to carry the book to his workshop, so that it might be restored in a timely fashion, already considering what leather he might require for the bindings, if he still had enough of the better glue...
It only occured to him much later that, in his enthusiasm, he had left Crowley behind in a most impolite manner; and on the first evening after his return, with such a marvellous gift, too!
He hoped dearly Crowley might forgive him for it.
The following weeks rather implied he had.
Crowley kept less to his letters, or whatever manner of work he did in his study, and often frequented the workshop and the library, draping his gangly limbs upon the furniture and idly writing in the ledgers he had brought.
(He even flipped through a book or two some evenings, which Aziraphale regarded as a personal victory, and took care to leave some of his favourites out on the tables.)
Very little talking was done, but Aziraphale found very little was needed.
Merely to know him near sufficed.
He would never in his life touch the stars, but still delighted in observing them, and it was much the same with his husband.
His husband. On occasion, the thought came upon him like a sudden downpour, and he knew not whether to feel delight or dread from it.
Aziraphale knew now that he loved him, this peculiar creature with his harsh manner and thoughtful glittering eyes, who made him laugh and lit fire in his chest; only love could gnaw so painfully at the heart, only love could nourish as well as starve, only love could hurt so deliciously... and Aziraphale was lost to it.
The knowing of it was a quiet, private thing; he'd made a polite request for Crowley to bring him a number of books from the shelves, and he complied, not without much grumbling and complaining, but comply he did.
And as he held out the stack for Aziraphale, meeting his gaze for only a single, beautiful moment before averting his eyes again, a spark went into Aziraphale's heart, and he knew, oh, he knew.
He loved this man.
Before, it was affection and no small measure of lust - or at least Aziraphale had presumed so - and then, in one shining moment, he knew it to be that most tender of affections, that longing, that force behind all happenings in the world since Eden itself.
It was love, and...
...he was alone with it.
Aziraphale wept that night, in his cold, lonely bed, too vast for only one to occupy it.
(It was what one did, he believed, when one was alone in love.)
The next morning, however, Aziraphale firmly told himself he would not make such a maudlin spectacle of himself any longer.
Fine, then. He loved. Crowley did not.
They were husbands nonetheless, in nothing but name; strangers apart from their wordless shared evenings and some polite conversations on occasion.
Love would not - could not - change a thing.
So Aziraphale took his tender affections and set them carefully aside, so that they might not plague him near as much, even if they might surface unexpectedly.
He must be careful with Crowley, tentative, to even achieve as little as friendship. No, no, it wouldn't do to be greedy in that regard, to demand too much.
Carefully, Aziraphale, he told himself, carefully, so that you might not rekindle the early disgust, and chase him away.
And so it was with the utmost hesitation that Aziraphale brought the matter before Crowley.
"I wondered," he began, on one of their shared evenings, and Crowley flinched at the words; an unfavourable sign. "If we might not... have dinner together."
Aziraphale took great care to keep his tone calm, devoid of emotion, businesslike and distant.
"We are married men; it would do well for us to take meals together, and be better acquainted. Perhaps even share quarters eventually."
"Ngk," Crowley said - it was a frequent thing with him - and stared as if Aziraphale had suggested an orgy right in the market square.
"Is that agreeable?" Aziraphale queried.
"Hnnng. Yes. Certainly, angel." Crowley muttered, and retired to his chambers for the night.
Aziraphale feared he had fled the conversation deliberately, but at least there had been agreement, and even usage of that name that was slowly beginning to carry more fondness than mockery.
It was, at the very least, a start. And, perchance, a good one.
Aziraphale smiled as he returned to tending on Nutter's book.
Perhaps, only just perhaps, this marriage was not doomed to failure yet.
(It would be chaste, yes, celibate; but at least there could be camaraderie between them, and that would be more than many arranged couples could boast.)
Aziraphale fluttered with anticipation deep inside, near vibrating with it.
He was already seated, and had not yet touched the food, even though he was famished.
He had taken great care with the preparations, ordering foods Crowley had professed to liking, and dressed as elegantly as if he were attending a great banquet with foreign dignitaries rather than an intimate dinner with his husband.
The doors creaked open, and Aziraphale stood to welcome him.
"Crowley!" He beamed. "My dear, I am glad you came!"
"Hgn." Crowley muttered, avoiding to look at him and striding past to take his seat.
"I hope all is to your liking? I took the liberty of choosing a wine that I believed to be passable, but if you disagree, I might always call for the servants to bring in another..."
"Hush, angel." A faint smirk on Crowley's lips, and Aziraphale longed to kiss it. "It's perfect."
"Oh. Thank you." Aziraphale flushed, and joined Crowley in a sip of the wine to conceal it.
He would need to be far more inebriated to be able to bear such loveliness spread out before him. Far, far more.
The meal was downright delectable, and they spoke well on matters of philosophy; so well, in fact, that they retired to the lounge with the wine, to continue the discussion more pleasantly.
In the warm haze of alcohol and the crackling of the fire, Aziraphale forgot his worries, and unabashedly hung on every word of Crowley's, drinking them in eagerly, and cataloguing every smirk, every harsh laugh, softened by drink and comfort, and the way his lovely, lovely golden eyes shone and glittered in the firelight.
Crowley gesticulated wildly, speaking with visible delight of the exotic snakes he had seen once at an exhibition, describing them with the same passion Aziraphale held for his books, and when their eyes slid past each other, halted, met, parted, met again, a surge of bravery rose up in Aziraphale's chest.
For a moment, he forgot the nature of their relations, forgot the disgust he had seen once - more than once - in that beloved face, and harboured, briefly, the delusion that his advances might be welcomed, perhaps even wanted.
Aziraphale leaned forward, smiling, and, with utmost deliberation, placed his hand on Crowley's thigh, at far too little distance to the hip to even remotely keep up a pretense of propriety.
The muscle jumped under his palm, and Aziraphale wanted, he wanted so terribly, a good meal and still he was starving, for Crowley, only for Crowley, he wished to taste every inch of him with a questing tongue, and then devour him whole so he might live forever in Aziraphale's heart, and let him do the same, oh, that they might never part again...
Crowley let out a strangled sound, "ngkAH!" or something like it, and, as if burnt, fled from Aziraphale's touch, scrambled to his feet, away, away.
Oh, no. Aziraphale had taken a liberty, hadn't he? It might be explained away with drunkenness, but...
"I s-should retire for the night." Crowley croaked, pushing his hair from his face with one lightly trembling hand.
"And... and we should not do this again."
Aziraphale startled. He had expected a bid to remain chaste in their interactions, but not... not such a final distancing!
"Why?" He requested around the lump stuck in his throat, slowly strangling him.
"It's..." Crowley appeared as if he might sicken, pale rather than the rosy flush of inebriation. "S'too... too intimate. It's what lovers do, Aziraphale."
"Well." Aziraphale clenched his hand to a fist, so it would not feel so empty, devoid of the heat of Crowley's skin under sheer fabric.
"We are husbands, my dear." He said, dry and businesslike, to conceal his hurt. "There are certain motions one must go through, mustn't one."
Crowley flinched back, and the renewed grimace on his face was so reminiscent of their wedding night, Aziraphale knew he had miscalculated.
"Never!" He snarled, all decorum lost, trembling from rage now more than shock. "I told you- unwilling- would not! Would never! Mustn't, no, not you, not us!"
The keen sting of rejection pierced Aziraphale's heart, and with it came guilt, too much to measure; he had as good as forced himself upon Crowley, who had made it abundantly clear that his interests lay not in Aziraphale's direction; he had deluded himself into believing a lie, one which told of a husband who was not unwilling, who might feel, if not desire for Aziraphale, at least a readiness to indulge.
What foolishness. Aziraphale was old and uncomely, naturally a vision of the likes of Crowley could not bear his touch.
"My dear..." He attempted, one last time. I will not do it again, will not as much as look at you, but please, oh please, stay...
"Good night, Lord Fell." Crowley cut him off sharply, and fled the room entirely.
Aziraphale drained what remained of the wine by his lonesome, and let the servants lead him to his chambers after.
His sleep was mercifully dreamless; it were the waking hours now, when a grimace of abject disgust haunted him, and it was more cruel than any night terrors he might've had.
In the following weeks, all the closeness Aziraphale had painstakingly built up crumbled to dust.
No further dinners were taken together, no drinks imbibed in warm company, and the library was devoid of Crowley's quiet presence.
They scarcely even encountered one another on the corridors, though Aziraphale thought often that he glimpsed Crowley's dark frock coat fluttering hastily around the corner in avoidance of him.
Social engagements were refused in favour of what must surely be a doubled workload at least, and even then, Crowley took long rides in his spare hours.
(His horse was a splendid black mare by the name of Bentley, and Crowley loved her fiercely.)
And Aziraphale was left alone with books that could no longer soothe his mangled heart, and now bore many tear stains upon their pages.
Oh, he longed so for Crowley, why had he overstepped his bounds so, why!? If only he had loved more chastely, it would not tear him apart by the seams now, this longing for only a glimpse of him, a single weak smirk, his name - Lord Fell, even, oh, Lord Fell would do - from that beloved mouth.
Even when a summer fever gripped Aziraphale - weakened from heartbreak and susceptible to the grievances of the season - for a small number of days, no word from his husband, no visit; though the servants were uncommonly attentive of him.
(And, once, a shadowed figure in the night, resting a cool, slender hand upon his burning skin; though, surely, that had been naught but a fever dream.)
Invitations to Madame de Tracy's were brought by courier near daily, but Aziraphale declined them all. He could scarcely bear to speak with the servants, much less an old and cherished friend who would surely ask after Crowley's wellbeing and their marriage.
No, Aziraphale would be alone in his misery, alone as he wasted away to dust and tears among his books.
(Nutter's volume had barely been touched since that fateful evening; and every glimpse of it broke Aziraphale's heart anew, a steady reminder of the pure, innocent affection he had sullied with his unwanted advances.
He nearly cast it into the fire, one wine-soaked, miserable night. Alas, in the end, he could not, and had wept bitterly with it pressed against his chest.)
His family took little notice of him since the tea incident... and some days, Aziraphale nearly wished for their chastisement, their harsh words.
He deserved them now, after all.
Aziraphale sat among the bloom of late summer's flowers, with birds chirping and ducks waddling gamely about his feet; and his only thoughts were maudlin ones towards the dark clouds billowing overhead, illuminated by the setting sun and ready to unleash a storm upon them at any moment.
(Would he even bother to flee from it, or simply let the rain drench him where he sat? Aziraphale barely cared.)
"Brother!" An exclamation broke through his melancholy, aided substantially by the hard fall of a hand upon his shoulder.
"Gabriel." Aziraphale acknowledged tiredly.
"It has been too long, Aziraphale. Hope your health has improved? I hear you and Michael have fought - again, Aziraphale? - surely, you've made amends already?"
Without waiting for answers, he pulled Aziraphale to his feet. "Come, walk with me awhile."
His smile was as broad as ever, and Aziraphale loathed the empty falseness of it, had done so since childhood.
"Married life!" Gabriel clapped his hands together. "Do tell an old bachelor, what is it like?"
"Miserable." Aziraphale responded coldly, where usually he would simply let Gabriel move to the next topic of conversation. "As you well know, Gabriel, and likely hoped for."
To his brother's credit, the startlement seemed eerily near genuine.
"...you jest." A slip in the pleasantly smiling facade. "Trouble in paradise? With such a match? Come now, Aziraphale, do not mock me."
"Me? Mocking you!?" Aziraphale gasped, a flicker of outrage lighting in the cold, empty cavern of his heart. "I might ask the same of you! What in Heaven and Hell possessed you to bind me and him together? A cruel joke, Gabriel, and crueler on him than me! If you intended to garner favour with Hellshire with this match - well, suffice to say, you have made a grave miscalculation!"
"Cruel?" Gabriel repeated, smile uncertain and faltering. "I... I fail to catch your meaning, brother."
"You-" The flicker extinguished, and a great weariness washed over Aziraphale. "Oh, never mind."
Let Gabriel have his farce. Aziraphale was weary and heartsick, and fury might only please him more.
"That... surprises me." Gabriel murmured, a light frown appearing on his brow. "But your husband, at least, must be happy?"
"As miserable as I, I'm afraid." Aziraphale muttered bitterly. "He cannot as much as bear to look at me."
"Why, that is peculiar indeed!" Gabriel exclaimed. "Beelze assured me he spoke of you with utmost fondness, it was why ze suggested the match in the first place!"
"Before the match?" Aziraphale frowned. "No, you must be mistaken. We did not know each other before our wedding day."
"Oh, he knew you enough, from how ze was talking. Smitten at first glance during the garden party at the Eastern Emissary, and in love by the time you stood beside him at the oyster table during that Roman masquerade, you recall, the ghastly one? Pined for you, ze said. Longed, and not exactly quiet about it."
Aziraphale stood frozen.
"Naturally, I would not have wed you otherwise. Beelze and I agreed, we would need a marriage, and if he already loved you so ardently, either you would learn to love him, or at least have an attentive husband. What, did you think I would barter you off without a second thought!? You are my brother, Aziraphale! For all that we do not see eye to eye, I would not see you quite so miserable."
Gabriel put a hand on his shoulder, earnest for once in his life.
"I am truly sorry his infatuation has not stood up to closer acquaintance. We can undo it, Aziraphale, we can- has he bedded you on the wedding night?"
"What?" Aziraphale stammered. "Oh, oh no, he... he was a gentleman, said he would not take an unwilling husband-"
"Great! We can simply have it annulled then." Gabriel beamed. "I shall marry Beelze, if there is nothing for it."
(He looked strangely hopeful at the prospect.)
"You mustn't be with him if you suffer so." He added, clapping Aziraphale hard on the shoulder. "All will be well, little brother, I assure you. You need never see the man again."
A nearby bush made a strangled sound, and a figure slipped away unseen.
Aziraphale stood in a daze as thunder sounded in the distance and the first few drops of rain gently fell around him.
All he had known to be truth, inalienable and ever constant, had proven itself false, and Aziraphale could not believe a word of it.
Gabriel, a loving brother, caring for Aziraphale's future and wellbeing? Crowley, not a stranger on their wedding day? Crowley in love with him since... oh, when was the Roman masquerade, years! Years ago, and vocal enough about if for the Prince to arrange this match - Gabriel, his best interests at heart, ludicrous, laughable! - Crowley, wracked with the same terrible pangs of longing Aziraphale held in his heart, no, no, it could not be!
A delusion, nothing more - or, better yet, an extension of the cruel marriage plot, for Crowley did not love him.
No, no, he did not, would not, could not, a thing of such impossibility, to be loved by such a man, loved in silence and chivalry for years upon years - and Aziraphale, not even learning his name, forgetting his face! - and then such disgust at their match, he could make no sense of it.
If Crowley loved him, why refuse him? Why avoid him? Why not press Aziraphale to the sheets on their wedding night and entwine their souls so tight God Herself could not separate them!? Why speak of unwilling husbands, when Aziraphale had been willing - less so, yes, but never opposed! - from the start, and Crowley likely just as much?
(Or, if Crowley was not carnally inclined at all, and only burned in chaste love for him, why not confess such? Aziraphale would understand - being exclusively inclined towards men himself - and not press for that which Crowley did not wish to provide!)
And yet, if it was a lie, a ploy, then... what could Gabriel have intended with it? Their marriage already lay in ruins - the offer of annulment would be a kindness then!
No, he could make neither head nor tails of it.
Another growl of thunder, and Aziraphale knew then:
"I must speak with Crowley on this." He said aloud, and made for his quarters in all due haste.
"Crowley!" Aziraphale burst through the door, uncaring for the impropriety of barging into a gentleman's private chambers in such a manner. "Crowley, my dear, we must talk- oh, what the Heavens are you doing!?"
"What's it look like, angel? I am returning to the palace." Crowley tugged his travelling coat into place, a scarf and tinted glasses obscuring his face. "Send my belongings, or keep them, it matters not."
"Returning? But... but you are my husband!" Aziraphale exclaimed. "Why-"
Crowley barked out an unhappy laugh. "Unconsumated, any scribe can annul it with the correct documents, even in absentia. I've left them on the desk, I am sure the signatures are in order."
"Wait-" Aziraphale tried.
"And I... I have said it on our wedding night" - his voice cracked on the words - "I will not have an unwilling husband. You are unhappy. I shall leave."
"You mustn't!" Aziraphale cried. "Crowley, stay and explain-"
Aziraphale reached out, and, grasping a handful of scarf, gave it a good tug.
"Explain- oh lord."
The scarf and sunglasses dislodged, Crowley's eyes were pooling with tears, red and lined with heavy bags, and misery written into every fibre of his features, nay, his whole being.
"Oh, do not pity me now." Crowley croaked. "I c-could not bear it."
He fell to pieces before Aziraphale's eyes, his tall stature collapsing into a chair, one shaking hand coming up to stem a renewed flood of tears.
"I would have your story." Aziraphale said, quietly, confused. "The truth of it all, from your lips, I will not believe it from any other."
"You deserve as much." Crowley conceded hoarsely, and began.
"Your brother spoke true, we first met at the Eastern Emissary. I assume you do not remember - do not remember many of our meetings, it seems - but you had lent your cane to Lady Eve, as she was heavy with child. I made comment on it as we both took shelter from the storm beside each other."
Aziraphale recalled, faintly, a warm hand pulling him out from under the sudden rain, but he had been quite preoccupied at the time.
"I do apologise." He murmured. "I had only just begun perusing a brief volume of verse before the party, and was still quite lost in it."
"Yes, I noticed that tendency in you with Agnes Nutter's book." Crowley smiled weakly.
"I saw you at the menagerie, and at Easter Mass, and though we failed to speak, I could not take my eyes off you. I shall put it plain: you enchanted me.
There was little reason for me to attent that dreadful Roman masquerade, save that you were there. You were rather more taken with the oysters, of course, but simply to look upon you soothed my aching heart.
I knew it was love then, if your mere presence gladdened me so, and I endeavoured to seek it out at any opportunity that presented itself."
"Good lord." Aziraphale breathed, and sat down heavily on the bed.
"I was the black knight at the masked ball that winter, and sat in the balcony beside yours at the theatre. If you will recall the crêpe incident and the mysterious benefactor who settled it, as well as the unpleasant business with the German book collectors..."
"Me." Crowley confirmed solemnly. "For a man of such measured temper, you certainly seem to attract trouble, ange- Lord Fell."
He forced himself to stand, like a dying man resolving to meet Death with his head held high.
"I would never have dreamed of demanding more. I existed in your periphery, and that was enough. That I could not keep my mouth... that I could not keep quiet in regards to my affections is my greatest regret. I extolled your virtues towards the Prince, thinking ze might consider you for a few volumes of the royal library in need of restoration. "
"But instead, you found yourself bound, against your will, to a deranged creature obsessed with you. Your pale face at our farce of a wedding, I was furious with Beelzebub for wronging you so, and with myself for wishing to... to take advantage of your sense of duty.
I never would, I swore it to God Herself. For a time, I thought you might... but no. It was not love that motivated you. Only obligation, I heard it in your tone that damnable night."
A tear slid from Crowley's eye.
"I do not blame you for not finding it in your heart to love me.
Satan knows, I could never find it in my own."
Aziraphale could not speak.
"I tried my best to make this marriage bearable, to give you as much freedom as you might require, and as little of me as I could. Forgive me for that foolishness. Had I been forced to wed anyone other than you, no circumstances other than annulment could've released me from such agony.
"Lord Fell..." He bowed, and never fully straightened, as if something within him had broken beyond repair.
"If you will permit me, I shall prove my love to you one final time... by leaving you in peace."
A last, longing glance, face wet with tears.
"I swear I will not impose upon you again for as long as I live."
Crowley made for the door, but hesitated. Turned back.
He stepped close, knelt down, and wordlessly pressed a tender kiss to the gold band encircling Aziraphale's finger.
His lips lingered for a moment, a shuddering breath that was nearly a sob escaping him, a last, soft "angel"...
And then Crowley scrambled back to his feet and fled the room.
Crowley took great strides as he stumbled through the corridors, uncaring of the servants aghast at his haste - or perhaps the agony on his countenance - and no thought in his mind safe to finally free his beloved from the blasted marriage that weighed so heavily on his sweet heart.
He burst into the stables, and drew Bentley out by her reins himself. No time to saddle her, he could not stay a second longer, the dear old beast knew him well enough to ride without.
She neighed uncertainly as he scrambled onto her back, the stablehand and the worried servants a distant clamour, but when he pulled her reins, she burst out into the night with due haste.
A terrible storm was raging, a rain as if announcing a Flood, but Crowley could only be grateful for it, and the way it concealed his tears.
Aziraphale knew now, knew it all, the truth of their marriage, who was to blame for it, and he could not bear to stay, not when his presence filled his beloved with such misery.
The world smeared into wet streaks of dark and light as he made for the outer gate.
If God had any mercy left for Crowley, She would have Bentley stumble on the roads to the palace and throw him to his death.
What was a broken neck but cure for a broken heart.
He rode, and none dared stop him.
Aziraphale could still feel the touch of lips burning like a brand, heart aching in sympathy.
It was true. (Which had certainly been in doubt, seeing as it was Gabriel who had provided the information.)
Crowley loved him, with a desperation Aziraphale scarcely saw even in the novels he read. He loved him so much, that... that.....
A terribly rude word slipped from his lips, and then Aziraphale was running.
The gate, the front gate, surely Crowley had not passed it yet, had gone to the stables, he might still catch...
A dark shadow in the rain, flying across the cobbles, and Aziraphale's heart sank.
"Crowley!" He called, but the hooves clattered too loud, he could not be heard over them.
His chest was full of pain and devoid of breath, he was not heard, and if Crowley passed the gate, Aziraphale had the terrible premonition he would never see him again.
Desperation makes fool of man.
Aziraphale threw himself in the beast's path, grasping for her reins and still shouting over the storm, Crowley's name and stop, STOP-
"What-" Crowley's eyes widened, and for only a moment, hope kindled in the both of them.
And then the horse reared in shock.
Aziraphale stumbled back as the kicking legs sprayed him with rainwater, staring in horror at the lightning-defined silhouette looming over him. He lost his balance, fell to the ground, the hooves thundering down around him when all he could do was curl into a ball and pray for his life.
"No, Bentley!" Crowley snapped, fighting with the tangled reins, doing all he could to calm her into obedience.
"Ho, down!" He snarled, but she was not to be calmed, and when she reared again, Crowley fell.
He landed in a puddle, and quite unelegantly too. A spike of pain exploded in his wrist, Bentley uneasily bucking nearby, but what did that matter when Aziraphale lay still as the dead nearby.
(Was it water or blood shining in the moonlight around him?)
"Please." Crowley whispered, crawling over. "God, I shall ask nothing else from you, except this. Let him live, let him be free of harm, please, oh, please..."
"Angel?" Aziraphale felt a soft touch to his hair rather than the blinding pain of a hoof upon his skull, and hesitantly unfurled from his tense position.
Crowley was leaning over him, and relief bloomed across his face at the first meeting of their eyes, a wide, true smile.
Aziraphale realised it was the single most beautiful expression he had ever seen.
"Are you injured, angel?" Crowley breathed. His fingers - trembling, ever so slightly - were still in Aziraphale's hair, sliding down gently to his neck.
"No." Aziraphale whispered, nearly breathless with love. "No, no, I am quite-"
"Then... WHAT MANNER OF DEVIL POSSESSED YOU!? Crowley snarled in sudden fury, fisting his hand into Aziraphale's sodden collar and shaking him. "A HORSE IN FULL GALLOP! I KNOW YOU TO BE INTELLIGENT, HOW COULD YOU BE SO FOOLISH AS TO- YOU MIGHT HAVE DIED!"
Ah yes. Aziraphale nearly laughed. There was the brash creature, short of temper and blunt of speech, that he had married.
He found he preferred it greatly to the broken man who had left his chambers no more than five minutes since.
"I might have died nonetheless, had I let you leave." He confessed quietly. "A heart without its other half wastes away... or so the books tell me, at least."
Crowley flinched back, as if stabbed.
"This is a foul jest, Lord Fell!" He spat, already attempting to gain his feet and resume his ride-
"No!" Aziraphale threw his arms wide and pulled Crowley to his chest, holding him tight.
Crowley was shaking badly, but not from the cold or their soaked garb, not even the icy wind blowing fat raindrops about them.
"Please, no..." He moaned. "Do not pity me so, this is cruelty, let me, leave me..."
"Never." Aziraphale whispered. "Oh, my dear, never. It is true that I did not know you before the day we were wed, had barely heard your name, buried our meetings under thoughts of books and other worldly pleasures, but, oh... I grew to love you, how could I not?"
"No," Crowley gasped, pressing his face into Aziraphale's shoulder, weeping in earnest. "You cannot, would never... you were unhappy, I know you were..."
Aziraphale laughed, gently petting his rain-soaked hair. "Because my husband would not even take his meals with me, naturally I was unhappy!"
He let Crowley pull back, see the honesty in his eyes as he spoke.
"Crowley, to hear you profess your love has filled me with joy so fierce I could hardly speak. Do not leave, dear boy, I beg you. Let us attempt marriage anew, now that love is known to be there between us."
Crowley blinked at him.
His eyes red and swollen, hair limp and a bruise from the fall off the horse adorning his forehead, he did not appear much like a Baron; only a helpless fool in love.
Aziraphale could not look much better, but Crowley was still gazing at him like he was an apparition, an angel; and receiving the same in return.
Lightning flashed; and even before the darkness of night reclaimed the courtyard, their mouths found each other and would not part for as long as they had breath to spare.
There would be all manner of things said, that night.
A servant would whisper "Come along now, Bentley, don't you disturb 'em."
"Oh dear, won't they catch cold," another would say, and go stoke the fire in their rooms a little higher.
Gabriel, upon hearing of the happenings in the courtyard, would say nothing, only smile, and compose a letter to the Prince that contained the phrase "most satisfactorily resolved," and attributed all the credit to himself.
And later, as soon as they could bear to unlatch themselves from one another, two rain-soaked figures would stumble back to more private abodes.
"Oh, careful" would be said, and "let me take this off", "you must be frozen to the bone" and "I do believe you are staring, angel".
And, once all skin was bared and their marriage bed was not so vast and empty anymore - though considerably more damp - there would be a breathless whisper of "tell me, my dearest... if you had a willing husband..." and a strangled sound in response.
Any other words spoken that night are far too intimate to relate. But the Esteemed Reader may rest assured they were all spoken with love, and that annulment would never again be a topic of discussion for as long as they both lived.
(Safe for once, in the afterglow of their first coupling, when Aziraphale jokingly suggested it, so Gabriel and Beelzebub might be led to the altar in their stead.
Crowley had assured him it was like to happen in any case - and would soon be proven right - so the second coupling commenced without another mention of it.)