“My lady, you should consider wearing the pink gown. It does set off your complexion,” Alice said, looking at Aziraphale with her guileless brown eyes. It was so difficult to deny her anything when she looked at him like that.
Aziraphale took in the pretty pink gown his lady's maid had selected from his wardrobe and bit his lip. It was a lovely color, but Aziraphale was sorely tempted by his favored light blue kirtle. It was much more modest, the pink gown dipping low enough to show the tops of his breasts. He didn’t want all the knights falling over themselves to kiss his hand and win his favor. Though he supposed that was rather the point given the fact that Lord Walter seemed to think a kiss from the Lady Aziraphale was the perfect prize for the tourney.
That and a handsome sum of gold.
Sighing, Aziraphale nodded and tried to feel satisfaction in Alice’s little yelp of excitement. Aziraphale reasoned that, tantalizing cleavage or no, it wouldn’t hurt to put on a bit of a show for the crowds. He was here to garner favor for Lord Walrer and if wooing the crowds with his so-called beauty would help then so be it.
“Oh you'll look beautiful,” Alice gushed as she laid the dress out on the bed, running her fingers over the delicate white embroidery. “All these little flowers and the crown for the lady of the tournament. You’ll look like an angel.”
Aziraphale smiled prettily.
Alice hurried back to Aziraphale’s side and began to fuss with his hair. “I can pin back your curls like this.”
She tugged about three quarters of Aziraphale’s blonde curls up behind his ears. He'd miracled his hair long when he got this assignment and found he enjoyed it. It was difficult to handle sometimes but he loved the way it looked, pinned up just right.
"Thank you, Alice. You do such lovely things to my hair,” Aziraphale said, making Alice giggle in pleased embarrassment.
She herded Aziraphale to a chair by the chamber window and got to work on his hair, using her fingers to define each curl and choosing which ones would be left to artfully drape over his shoulders.
“It's so exciting,” Alice said as she pulled back another curl. “So romantic.”
This wasn’t the first time Alice had mentioned how excited she was for the tourney. It was the first one held in her lifetime and was set to bring a lot of business to the town. Which was part of the reason Aziraphale had been sent to help Lord Walter who was apparently set up to make this town flourish after several rough winters in a row.
Aziraphale had arrived at Lord Walter’s keep nearly three months ago and, with a judicious use of his powers, convinced the man that Aziraphale was his long lost cousin. Walter and his wife had taken to him immediately and Aziraphale’s accommodations were lavish. So far he’d been treated beautifully. All in all, not his worst assignment to date
“I suppose it is all rather exciting,” Aziraphale agreed, not wanting to ruin his friend’s mood. She was starry-eyed and even if Aziraphale wasn’t exactly thrilled to be on display as the prize of the tourney, he was big enough to admit that he also enjoyed the gallantry of it all. Over the last several centuries, Aziraphale had started to enjoy the rise of tales of heroes and maidens and dashing rescues.
Aziraphale would decidedly leave his tentative excitement – and probably the kiss itself – out of the report he would send back to heaven when this was all over...
“Is there anyone you hope wins?” Alice tittered, still so innocently excited. Her enthusiasm was quite infectious. “Sir John is so very handsome and oh – the way he looks on a horse!”
Aziraphale knew John, he was one of the knights so set on wooing him. He was a handsome man, strong jaw and bright blue eyes. He wouldn’t be the worst option to kiss, Aziraphale thought, mind drifting to Sir George who had a rotting front tooth.
“I’m trying not to hope anything at all,” Aziraphale said. It was true. It would be easier to take the results as they came and worry later.
“You don’t even hope Sir Crowley is there?” Alice asked with a secretive smile. Aziraphale blushed.
Crowley had made a rather grand appearance at a banquet a month prior and something about his behavior had the entire castle convinced he was out to win Aziraphale’s hand. Lord Walter teased him something awful and Alice loved bringing it up every chance she got. Oh you and Sir Crowley grew up together? That’s terribly romantic. Or. He’s very dashing. His hair is such a rare color!
Aziraphale didn’t like thinking about that much at all. He especially didn’t like thinking about how the mere possibility of such a relationship made his heart race.
“Sir Crowley is no longer in England,” Aziraphale said, the easy lie he had come up with when what felt like every single person in the castle started asking Aziraphale about him. And for all he knew, he was right. Crowley often had to leave England for the Continent, his demonic work taking him all sorts of places.
Alice pinned the delicate crown of white roses to Aziraphale’s head and then circled around him, soft hands coming to rest on her shoulders as she smiled down at him. “You look perfect, milady.”
Aziraphale stood and let Alice help him into his kirtle, picking up the dress and pulling it up over his arms, the soft fabric settling below his collarbone and off the shoulder, it’s sleeves flaring as they fell and draped over his knuckles. The tight bodice pushed his breasts together and made him look more well-endowed. The whole ensemble was the height of fashion. The best for Lady Aziraphale or so Lord Walter said when he’d presented him with the dress.
Aziraphale traced the white flowers embroidered on the skirt, enjoying the feeling of the thread under the pad of his finger. He didn’t often take to female presentation but it was lovely, these beautiful skirts and luxurious fabrics.
“Let’s get you downstairs,” Alice said before kneeling and helping Aziraphale into his slippers.
Aziraphale left his chambers and took the stairs nearly two at a time in his haste to get downstairs. He needed to get to the lord’s seats so Walter could show him off, announce the prize and start the tourney. Two events that day: the joust and the melee.
Lady Emony met Aziraphale in the hall and walked with him out into the fields, chattering about her own excitement. “It’s been so long since we’ve had a tourney. I’m sure it will be just the thing for the town. Last year was very difficult for our people. With the wheat blight and all.”
Walter’s wife was a nice woman, a bit simple but very kind. She treated the servants with the utmost respect and managed the household with aplomb.
Aziraphale took her hand. “It is thrilling, isn’t it?”
Emony smiled in agreement and
said, “You look so lovely, Lady Aziraphale. We’re so grateful you agreed to be the prize for the tourney.”
Aziraphale blushed again and wondered how he would withstand the day if such comments were in his future. His face might burn clean off.
Emony walked with him to the far field where the wooden stands had been set up, towering up and over the dusty plain. Outside the tiltyard were tents where the smell of roasting meat and chestnuts rose thick in the air as vendors prepared food for the hungry tourney-goers.
It felt like the perfect day to be outside. The sky was cloudless and though the sun was warm, there was a delicate breeze that occasionally passed through the fields. Aziraphale thanked his lucky stars that it hadn’t rained recently, his dainty slippers would surely have been soaked through otherwise. Lifting the wide skirt of his dress with one hand, Aziraphale ascended the wooden steps to the dais where he would sit, overlooking the tourney. Walter was already in his own seat on the dais and jumped to his feet. “Lady Aziraphale! You are absolutely stunning.”
Walter looked very good himself, surely helped by his wife in selecting his best white shirt and trousers, an ornate but not gaudy blue jerkin over the whole thing making him look quite dapper.
Aziraphale blushed again.
Walter smiled broadly. One of his front teeth was slightly crooked but Aziraphale thought that slight imperfection in his otherwise handsome face made him look more friendly in the end. “I can’t thank you enough for being willing to offer up a kiss to the winner. Did you know, once I put the word out that you were the prize, I received twice as many participation requests?”
Walter had come to him nearly a month prior, desperate to increase attendance at the tourney. He wanted to boost commerce in the town - which had been the whole reason Aziraphale had suggested the tourney in the first place, as ordered - but so far only three minor knights had agreed to attend and, oh, by the way, would Aziraphale do Walter the honor of bestowing a kiss upon the winner? Men would come from miles around for a kiss from the Lady Aziraphale.
It had been something of a shock to Aziraphale when he had heard this. Apparently, the news of the arrival of Walter’s long lost cousin had spread through the lower country like wildfire and tales of Aziraphale’s beauty were told far and wide. Most likely greatly exaggerated. Regardless, it was all rather embarrassing.
He was thankful Crowley was nowhere to be seen. He would never let Aziraphale live this down. Bestowing a kiss upon the winner of a tourney? Crowley would surely mock him for years to come.
Walter helped him to his seat at the front of the platform where Aziraphale could look out over the tiltyard. He saw Sir John sparring with a red haired man he didn’t recognize. A few other knights and lords were warming up their muscles by going through sparring routines on various patches of the yard, their grunts and yelps underscoring the dull murmur of the growing crowd.
A servant pressed a cup of wine into Aziraphale’s hand and he gave the young man a smile. He blushed under the grime on his nose and scurried away with a hurried, “Thank you, milady.”
Aziraphale took a sip. He could say a lot about his stay with Lord Walter, but the man knew his way around wine.
One of Walter’s men blew a horn and called the participants to assemble at the front of the yard. Aziraphale watched as Sir John let his sword drop, tip barely digging into the beaten dirt at his feet. His armor was well polished and without his cowl, his hair was a shining black in the late morning sun. Alice was right, he truly was handsome. Even Aziraphale couldn’t stop the little pull of attraction in his stomach as John threw him a wink, marching up to join the other twenty-odd men waiting for Walter to make his speech.
The crowds were cheering, hooting and hollering, some clearly already drunk and others merely energized by the palpable edge of competition in the air.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, using the voice Aziraphale know recognized as his ‘lordly voice.’ It was deeper and much more posh than his day-to-day. “Thank you for coming today. I hope you haven’t had your fill of food and drink, for there is a long day ahead and much more enjoyment to be had.”
The crowd cheered again.
Walter held up his hands and silence fell. “The rules of the tourney are simple. There will be two events. Starting with the joust.”
Another raucous cheer.
“All remaining knights will then participate in melee. Last man standing will be crowned the winner.”
Aziraphale smiled as some of the crowd surged to its feet, hooting.
“The winner of the joust will be awarded a favor by the Lady Aziraphale as well a sum of gold dependent upon points scored.”
There was a shuffling among the participants, some of them looking up at Aziraphale with what even he could sense was lust.
Azirphale had embroidered a ribbon especially for this moment, light blue with golden embroidery in the shape of vines. He hoped whoever got it would appreciate it. He had actually done it by hand. No miracles. It had seemed the thing to do. Pour as much love into it as possible.
The clatter of a horse drew the attention of the crowds. A latecomer.
As the full force of the attention of the gathered attendees turned on the knight arriving, Aziraphale heard Emony suck in a breath.
“It’s the Red Serpent,” she hissed in Aziraphale’s ear and Aziraphale found himself peering across the field at the approaching knight clad in black armor.
This wasn’t the first Aziraphale had heard of the Serpent to the south. Initially, he’d been certain it was Crowley. Who else would call themselves the Red Serpent? But the Serpent was Walter’s rival, and often spoken of as such, so when Crowley had arrived at Walter’s castle to a hearty welcome, Aziraphale’s theory as to the identity of the Serpent had been thoroughly disproven.
But here the man was, hopping off his horse and striding down the tiltyard so perhaps Aziraphale would finally be able to put a face to the notorious Serpent.
As he approached, Aziraphale saw the winding red snake emblazoned on his chest plate. Compared to the rest of the motley crew of knights, the Serpent was resplendent, armor polished to a high shine. For all Aziraphale knew, he could rival Sir John in beauty, but with his face hidden by his helm, he had no way to know.
Something about his stride, casual and yet full of violent purpose, had Aziraphale squirming in his seat. All that time around Crowley - and all those inappropriate thoughts about Crowley - had surely skewed Aziraphale’s reaction toward apparent villainy.
Aziraphale turned to Walter whose mouth had twisted into a wry smile. “Welcome, Serpent. Can’t be on time to anything can you?”
Was he – was he teasing the Serpent?
The knight didn’t reply but fell into the formation of other competing knights. Walter shook his head, almost affectionately, but continued.
“Well, now that our final competitor is here,” he drawled – still teasing? Had Aziraphale misunderstood his relationship with the Serpent? – and clapped his hands. “I suppose I can announce what the final prize is.”
That was followed by a fair bit of salacious hooting. So most of the crowd knew what would happen then. Aziraphale bit the inside of his cheek. He reminded himself that this was for the good of the tourney and therefore the town. He could live through a little embarrassment.
“The winner of the melee will be bestowed a kiss from my beautiful cousin, the Lady Aziraphale.”
The crowd exploded into thunderous applause. Various people cried out Aziraphale’s name and he gave them a shy wave which seemed to only encourage them.
As the excitement died down, Walter gave Aziraphale a small bow. “Milady, would you like to say a few words?”
Aziraphale had known it was coming and yet he couldn’t push away the nerves that struck at Walter’s request. It was alright. He gave speeches to the gathered archangels every few hundred years when they asked for an in-person report. He could do this.
He stood, smoothing his hands down his skirt, the motion of his shoulders rustling his curls and making a few fall forward over his bosom. “Good –“ he squeaked, “Good morning,” he tried again a bit louder. The crowd held their breath. “Thank you for coming today. To all the townspeople, we truly hope you enjoy yourselves. This event is as much for you as it is for our family.”
A few people in the crowd clapped and Aziraphale tried out a thankful smile. Oh dear, he was so nervous. “To all the knights who have come all this way, know that I wish you all luck and that, regardless of who wins, I will hold your efforts dear to my heart.”
After a polite nod, Aziraphale collapsed into his seat as the crowd boomed with applause and cheers, a few tourney-goers tossing flowers onto the pitch.
Emony took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. Aziraphale smiled at her gratefully. “You know Walter is very thankful to you for this,” she said again, eyes searching Aziraphale’s face.
“And I am very thankful to Walter,” Aziraphale replied, squeezing back.
The master of the tourney went about the group of knights as they drew lots for who they would be paired against who. And, with some cheers and murmuring, the tourney began.
First, it was a knight with a rose crest against a knight in dented armor with a sparrow pattern on his banners. He was clearly poorer than the rose knight and yet his skill was greater and he firmly unseated the rose knight on the second tilt.
Next was Sir John with his ornate maple tree banners against Sir George. John trounced him, as expected, and when he rode past the lord’s seats he tossed a daisy into Aziraphale’s lap. The crowd cheered, John already a clear favorite.
The tourney went on like this as the knights proceeded through the first round. Only one knight was injured and forced off the field, clearly no longer able to fight in the melee scheduled for the end of the day.
When the final pair of the first round took to the yard, Aziraphale found himself biting at his lower lip. It was the Serpent. He had still not removed his helm and he was set to run against Sir Peter who was very young but Aziraphale knew him to be a talented horseman and a strong jouster.
The Serpent rounded the field, his black horse like an extension of his body as he came to a stop in front of Aziraphale and produced a white rose. “Milady,” he said, his voice tinny inside his helm.
Aziraphale leaned forward and took it, his heart beating wildly. For a moment, he longed to see the man beneath the helm, but he buried the urge. He would find out soon enough.
“Thank you, good knight,” Aziraphale said, because it seemed like the sort of thing to say in this situation.
The knight chuckled and rode off. There was something so familiar about him and once more Aziraphale thought of Crowley, but it could not be, no matter if the knight’s laughter held a similar timber or the sinuous movement of his body in armor reminded Aziraphale so strongly of his own serpent.
Aziraphale pushed that thought away quickly. Crowley was not his. No.
The Serpent – not Crowley – took his place in the yard and before he even began his ride, Aziraphale knew he would win. Peter looked unsteady on his horse, nervous and not setting his weight right. Sure enough, the Serpent had him off his horse during the first tilt.
And so the tourney moved on.
With a short break between the rounds for the crowd to get refreshments and the knights to prepare themselves, Aziraphale turned to Walter and asked, “So, the Red Serpent. You invited him?”
Walter looked at him strangely. “Not exactly. I expected him though.”
“Aren’t you enemies? I thought perhaps he would avoid showing his face here,” Aziraphale said, still perplexed.
Walter opened his mouth to say something but the horn blew and the riders reassembled, ready for the next round.
The first round had weeded out the weaker riders and almost all the matches in the second went the full three tilts. At some point, Aziraphale heard a loud guffaw and turned. It was the Red Serpent talking to the master of the tourney. And that laugh. He felt certain it was Crowley.
Resolved to find out, Aziraphale focused during the Serpent’s next tilt, trying to sense any demonic powers in the knight’s apparent success. Crowley had never been much for horses so it was hard to believe he would be good at anything as complicated as this.
And yet, when the tilt began, Aziraphale felt nothing, no demonic miracles, and he could only watch as the Serpent’s lance exploded against the sparrow knight’s shield. Once, twice, and a glancing blow on the third.
The sparrow knight limped off the tiltyard, the blows from the lance clearly taking their toll.
Aziraphale looked down at the white rose in his lap and back up at the Serpent. He slipped off his horse with an unfair amount of grace for someone in so much armor. Aziraphale was intimately acquainted with the difficulties associated with armor and horses.
He couldn’t help but be impressed.
In the next round, there were only four knights left to joust. The Serpent, Sir John, a knight with an emblem of a raven and another with a bear. Aziraphale didn’t know their names and when he asked Emony she identified them as Bertram from the north and Harvey from the southeast, men of good standing. She winked at Aziraphale as the Serpent went up the pitch to face Bertram, the raven knight. “Are you looking forward to seeing your man win the day?”
Aziraphale glanced out to the tiltyard, momentarily confused. Did she mean Sir John? It had been clear to Aziraphale that John did hold some interest in him, not that Aziraphale encouraged it – he couldn’t exactly go about dallying with humans, not when they wanted to marry him – but he hadn’t thought they already considered John his suitor.
“Oh, I’m not certain he will,” Aziraphale demurred, hoping a less specific response wouldn’t alert Emony to his discomfort with the topic.
“Well, he’s quite the rider,” she said, distracted by the run of the jousters on the field.
Aziraphale watched as the raven knight struck the Serpent in the chest and his breath caught. Would he be unseated? But no, through some force – not even a miracle! Aziraphale was looking for them! – he managed to stay on his horse, though he did look somewhat worse for wear.
Emony’s hand came out to grip Aziraphale’s upper arm. “Oh no, I hope he’s alright!”
Aziraphale glanced at her. Why was she concerned for the Serpent? Perhaps he really had misread the situation with their neighbor to the south. He resolved to discuss it with her during the next break. Well, after he had some of that divine roasted boar that he could smell cooking in one of the tents. And perhaps a bit more wine.
The Serpent was lining up for the second tilt, not even pausing to recombobulate himself. He took a lance from the squire and then was riding forth to meet the raven knight in the middle of the yard. The lance in his hand was wobbling precariously and Aziraphale wondered if perhaps this was the moment the Serpent would finally fall. But no, at the last moment, he firmed his grip and the lance struck true, the tip shattering and forcing the raven knight’s lance away so that it missed its target.
The Serpent’s unsteadiness did not go unnoticed by the crowds. Some surged to their feet cheering at his success. Emony leaned close to Aziraphale and said breathlessly, “The Serpent is very talented.”
Aziraphale couldn’t disagree. He shouldn’t be secretly hoping for the Serpent to win – he was Walter’s enemy! And yet, compared to Sir John, there was something chivalrous and impressive about the Serpent who, against the odds, had just bested the raven knight.
Perhaps Aziraphale had been indulging in too many of the stories that had become so popular as of late.
He barely watched as Sir John came up against Sir Harvey. It felt a given that John would win. He’d been doing so well all day and, if the looks he kept throwing Aziraphale were any indication, he certainly had most of his hopes riding on a win.
He really was very handsome. What a shame that Aziraphale couldn’t –
Sir John bested Sir Harvey easily and he rode off the tiltyard without injury. Aziraphale was uncertain of how the Serpent would fare against Sir John during the next tilt. Especially if he had been injured during his run against the raven knight.
Hands fisted in his skirt, Aziraphale watched as the two knights took to their ends of the tiltyard. The entire crowd was silent and Aziraphale had no idea who they were rooting for. Sir John was local and therefore should hold most of the favor and yet, the Serpent had shown such strength in his last match that Aziraphale felt that many of the onlookers must be swayed in his favor.
The two knights began the tilt.
Sir John landed the first blow, his lance scraping the Serpent’s shield. Not enough to do any real damage. Aziraphale let out a long breath.
The second tilt had the reverse, the serpent landing a blow that crushed the tip of his lance while Sir John missed entirely.
The crowd was a mix of boos and cheers and in the gathering frenzy, the knights set up the third tilt.
Aziraphale’s blood was roaring in his ears and he had no idea what he wanted to happen – if only the Serpent were Crowley. He pushed the thought away. Then the two knights collided, the Serpent’s lance shattering against Sir John’s shield.
And John missing entirely.
The taut energy of the match broke and the crowd cheered, the Serpent swinging around the tiltyard with his broken lance, lifting his arms in victory.
Aziraphale turned to look at Emony who was beaming at him, cheeks pink from excitement and wine. “Your man won!”
The Serpent dismounted and tossed his lance and shield into the dirt carelessly, his black armor clanking as he approached the stand. Walter stood and crossed his arms over his chest. “Serpent.”
Now that was more along the lines of what Aziraphale had expected in response to this victory.
“Walter,” the Serpent replied flatly.
Walter stared at him for a moment before he dissolved into laughter. “Enough of this nonsense, Crowley. We both know you’re not nearly as intimidating as you think you are.”
The knight removed his helm.
The first thing Aziraphale saw was the shock of red hair, the second was a flash of yellow obscured by the long fringe stuck to Crowley’s forehead with sweat. He pushed back the leather cowl around his face and Aziraphale sucked in a breath.
Emony leaned close. “He’s very gallant, don’t you think?
Aziraphale nodded dumbly.
“I suppose I’ve earned a favor, Lady Aziraphale,” Crowley said with a self-satisfied smile. He was surely pleased with himself for tricking Aziraphale like this.
“Erm,” Aziraphale said as Emony urged him to his feet.
Aziraphale produced the ribbon he had sewed – oh goodness, Crowley was going to get his ridiculous handmade ribbon – from his pocket and leaned over the railing.
Without thinking, he reached out and brushed some of Crowley’s mussed hair away from his forehead, regretting the action immediately when Crowley’s eyes grew wide.
He pressed a kiss to the ribbon – because that was what he was supposed to do – and tied it around Crowley’s arm. “For luck,” he said, sounding embarrassingly breathless. “In the melee.”
Crowley’s dumbstruck expression disappeared only to be replaced by a wicked grin. “Why, Lady Aziraphale, I didn’t know you cared.”
Aziraphale couldn’t find any sort of witty, barbed retort, Nothing like their normal banter. “Of course I do, my dear.”
Aziraphale realized he was still leaning over the railing and pulled back, looking away quickly so he wouldn’t have to see or even hear Crowley’s response to that terribly romantic remark.
Emony looked at him with a sad smile and patted his hand. “Sir Crowley will be alright.”
“Oh yes,” Aziraphale said, running his hands over his bodice to soothe himself. “I’m certain of that.”
“Then why do you look so concerned?” Emony asked and that had Aziraphale turning to watch Crowley as he walked over the tiltyard which was slowly being cleared for the upcoming melee.
Not answering her question, Aziraphale said, “I thought Walter and the Serpent were at odds.”
Emony shook her head. “They have this rivalry neither of them will let go of. But they are truly friends. As you know! Sir Crowley visited us not too long ago and nothing untoward has happened since then.”
Aziraphale felt quite stupid. How had he so grossly misunderstood? Though, he supposed Crowley wasn’t totally free of blame as he had decidedly not explained the situation to Aziraphale, instead taking the entire evening of his visit to toss barbed comments in Aziraphale’s direction.
But then Aziraphale looked back on that evening in question and everything Crowley had said was cast in a different light.
That dress suits you.
Perhaps not said as sarcastically as Aziraphale had thought.
You’re doing your hair different these days.
Had that just been a comment? A…compliment?
Oh no wonder everyone thought they were in love. And Crowley had mentioned they were childhood friends! Ridiculous. It seemed the height of romance to anyone outside of their relationship. Well, Aziraphale should set that to rights. He was supposed to be at this post for at least another year. It would be quite difficult if they all thought he and Crowley were having some sort of long distance love affair.
It would only make things worse if Crowley won the melee and they had to…
Aziraphale realized with horror that there was a very real possibility that he would have to kiss Crowley. Very real.
Aziraphale’s stomach sank. Even when custom had called for people to exchange kisses, he and Crowley avoided it. They never touched except on accident and even those moments were rare. He wasn’t sure if it was Crowley purposefully putting distance between them or a subconscious effort on both their parts. It wasn’t as if he didn’t want to touch Crowley – it would certainly not be too bad if –
Aziraphale shouldn’t entertain those thoughts. In fact, he’d gotten rather good at burying them entirely.
Walter startled him by coming up to his side. “Are you enjoying the tourney, milady?”
“Oh yes, very much,” he said, even though it wasn’t exactly true. What he was was extremely stressed and mildly uncomfortable.
Walter gave him a small smile. “You know, if you and Sir Crowley are –“
“We aren’t anything,” Aziraphale insisted over a spike of fear. Walter looked at him curiously but thankfully dropped the subject.
“Very well,” he said with a short nod. “Would you like me to send the boy for some lunch?”
“That would be delightful,” Aziraphale said, smile coming much more easily at the prospect of delicious food.
Aziraphale relaxed into his seat the best he could, occasionally conversing with knights who would come by the stand and carefully try to engage him in conversation. He was polite but tried his best to seem shy. It wouldn’t do to be seen playing favorites with no clear winner.
It wasn’t long before the crowd began to take their seats, anxious for the melee to begin. Aziraphale found himself anxious as well. Crowley was there. Crowley was fighting. Crowley might win.
The knights began to gather on the field. Most had changed from their riding armor into armor that allowed for more movement. Crowley was no exception. He was still all in black but it was a hauberk and tunic, the only plate armor he wore was that covering his upper arms. To Aziraphale’s eyes, it seemed a dangerous choice. Unnecessarily vulnerable.
He clenched his fists in his lap and leaned forward, unable to control his growing nerves as the men gathered to fight.
Walter stood. “Arms at the ready!” he cried, followed by the steady clank of fifteen men raising their weapons.
With a resounding crash, the bear knight brought down his sword against the sparrow knight and then the men were pairing off, the action too much for Aziraphale to follow. First, it was John, screaming something Aziraphale couldn’t hear as he bore down on the raven knight. Then, the sight of Crowley, ducking away from a blow, Aziraphale’s breath catching in his throat. Why wasn’t the blasted demon using his powers? This was ridiculous!
The first to fall was the knight who bore a lion emblem. Aziraphale felt certain he was still alive but was quickly distracted by the quick dash of the sparrow knight as he slipped a knife over Crowley’s side.
Aziraphale surged to his feet and gripped the edge of the railing, ready to intervene, but Crowley brought the pommel of his sword down on the sparrow knight’s head and he crumpled to the ground, Crowley stepping away from an incoming blow, the sword whistling into nothingness.
It had been a very long time since Aziraphale had fought with a sword and watching Crowley on the field, face contorted with effort as he fended off blows, reminded Aziraphale of the sheer thrill of battle. It was glorious. Beautiful.
Sir Peter tackled Crowley to the ground, trying to grapple him, but Peter wasn't strong enough and Crowley had pushed him off before any damage could be done. As he began to rise to his feet, Sir John came at him from the side, swinging his sword low to cut Crowley down at the knees. Aziraphale fully expected him to land the blow and to have to watch Crowley fall and bleed. But Crowley twisted away, the sword aimed for his legs glancing off his upper arm instead.
In his relief, Aziraphale collapsed back in his chair, watching the rest of the fight in a daze. It was a flurry of blows and cries of pain, but all through it, Crowley stood. Sir John yielded to the bear knight when he threatened to cut him at the neck. The sparrow knight was felled by Crowley who cut across his thigh.
Then it was only Crowley and the bear knight, the latter approaching him from behind, sword raised. There was a glint of blood on Crowley’s sword from where he had just slashed the sparrow knight’s leg and even though no one could see it, Aziraphale knew his arm was still bleeding from where Sir John had landed a blow. He could feel the injury as if it were his own.
And yet Crowley wasn’t fading.
Aziraphale was astounded. Crowley had not used his powers for a moment. This was just sheer…strength. And will.
With a sharp jab of his elbow, Crowley knocked the bear knight back and whirled around, bringing his sword down to his neck before pausing.
The bear knight dropped his sword and yielded.
Crowley had won.
Despite the riot in his stomach, Aziraphale took to his feet and applauded Crowley. In truth he deserved it. Aziraphale had seen the strike to his chest. His side. His arm. And yet Crowley had stood strong and Crowley had conquered.
Crowley dropped his sword, shoulders sagging as he looked towards the lords’ dais, amber eyes bright in his pale face when he met Aziraphale’s gaze.
Walter stood and cried. “Let’s hear it for our winner! Sir Crowley!”
The crowd was so loud that Aziraphale could barely hear the roaring in his own ears. Crowley limped up to the stand and pushed his hair from his face with the back of his hand leaving a streak of blood behind. Aziraphale wanted to rush to him, to check his wounds, to take care of him.
Instead, Aziraphale stood on unsteady legs as his heart hammered away inside him.
“Congratulations, Sir Crowley,” he said, not sure if Crowley could even hear him over the raging crowd.
Crowley kept advancing. His gait slow and awkward as he favored his left leg. Aziraphale heart clenched in sympathy - not anticipation, no.
He limped up the steps to join Aziraphale who, with shaking hands, removed the flowers from his own hair and placed them atop of Crowley’s. Dirty and bloodied, white flowers in his red hair, Crowley looked - he looked…
“Congratulations,” Aziraphale repeated weakly, unable to look away from him.
Crowley took a labored breath and then gave him a crooked grin. “Bit surprised I won, to be honest.”
“I’m not,” Aziraphale said, quiet enough that, if the confused look on his face was anything to go by, Crowley couldn’t hear him.
Someone in the crowd called for a kiss and soon the other drunken attendees joined in. Crowley shrugged. “What do you say, angel?”
“I promised a kiss to the victor,” Aziraphale said, squaring his shoulders, “And since you are the victor, well…”
Crowley’s playful grin faltered even as his hand came up to cup Aziraphale’s cheek. Aziraphale could feel the calluses of his sword hand scrape over his cheekbone, the tips of Crowley’s fingers sinking into his hair. “I won’t if you don’t want me to.”
“I didn’t say that,” Aziraphale said, head tipped back slightly by the pressure of Crowley’s hand.
His head was spinning and the world was suddenly silent but for the words Crowley spoke next. “Stop me if you need.”
Aziraphale knew, when he agreed to bestow a kiss upon the winner, that that kiss could be anything from a gentle peck to a romantic sharing of breath. No matter what sort of kiss the winner wanted, Aziraphale knew it would be short lived. But with Crowley…
With his thumb delicately caressing Aziraphale’s cheek, Crowley brushed his lips over Aziraphale’s, a careful thing. It was over so quickly that Aziraphale couldn’t fight the disappointment that burst through him.
But then Crowley kissed him again and Aziraphale’s relief was so acute that he sighed into Crowley’s mouth. It was as if a switch had been flipped. Crowley’s delicate fingers in his hair grew tight and his other hand fell to Aziraphale’s waist tugging him firmly against his body as he deepened the kiss.
Aziraphale’s spine went liquid and he clutched at Crowley’s shoulders, fingers pricked by the chainmail as he did his best to stay upright. It felt as if the whole world didn’t exist. Just him and Crowley in the silence of the moment, kissing desperately.
Crowley kissed with his whole being, hand clutching as he pulled Aziraphale impossibly close. He kissed like he was starving for Aziraphale. Like he loved him.
The thought had heat crashing through Aziraphale, unearthing all those long buried thoughts about how good this could be. How good they could be.
Aziraphale was the first to pull away. He didn’t want to - he wanted to kiss Crowley until he realized that Aziraphale felt the same way, until he couldn’t possibly doubt it - but his face was flaming and he needed to catch his breath. There were people watching and -
Crowley immediately retreated and that was when Aziraphale realized that his imagined silence was in fact very real.
“Crowley!” he cried, trying to tuck his hair back with a pin. “Did you freeze time?”
Crowley looked sheepish. “Didn’t mean to?”
“Is that a question?” Aziraphale demanded, hoping some bluster might give him time to recover. He could still feel heat in his chest, the blush staining his cheeks surely reaching down to his bosom and making him look ravished. His fair complexion wasn’t always the blessing it seemed.
“No!” Crowley said tartly, rolling his eyes. “M’sorry, alright?”
Aziraphale huffed. Dashing romantic hero or no, Crowley would always be, well, Crowley. “Well, unfreeze it.”
“You’ve got, er,” Crowley said, gesturing at Aziraphale’s dress. He looked down and saw streaks of blood and dirt marring the pink fabric.
“Oh no,” Aziraphale said despondently, tugging at the worst of the stains. “Alice is going to be beside herself.”
“Let me,” Crowley said and when he snapped his fingers, the stains disappeared. “My fault anyway.”
Aziraphale wanted to say something - kiss me again, please - but Crowley unfroze reality and the screaming of the crowds was back. They were still chanting for a kiss.
Aziraphale met Crowley’s uncertain gaze. In for a penny… “I believe they think I still owe you a kiss.”
Crowley’s eyebrows disappeared under his fringe as Aziraphale came up on his toes and kissed him with as much affection as he dared. He hoped Crowley read the gesture for what it was. A promise.
Crowley barely had time to return the soft pressure before Aziraphale had settled back down on his heels and looked at the ground, every bit the beautiful, blushing maiden. It wasn’t exactly the time and place for the sort of kiss Aziraphale was imagining. Better to play the part and save the rest for later.
The already impossibly loud cheering increased in pitch as Walter came up between them and clapped Crowley on the back. “Will you be staying with us for a while or do you need to run off again?”
Crowley looked at Aziraphale over Walter’s shoulder. Aziraphale smiled. He wanted Crowley to stay. He wanted more than that. He wanted everything.
“I don’t have anywhere pressing to be,” Crowley said with a careless raise of one shoulder, still staring at Aziraphale. “But I don’t want to impose.”
Walter looked between them with a knowing smile. “I’m certain my cousin will be delighted if you take me up on my hospitality.”
Aziraphale curtsied. The entire castle already thought he and Crowley were in love. Who was he to dissuade them? To tell the truth, it was awfully romantic. Perhaps it could be like all those heroic songs. The Serpent and the Lady.
He had thought everyone believing he and Crowley were in love would make this post worse But maybe...maybe it would make it better. Aziraphale met Crowley’s eyes and said with as much meaning as he could muster, “You should rest and recover from your injuries, my dear. There are beds aplenty and Lord Walter and I welcome you. Truly.”
A slow smile overtook Crowley’s face. “How do I say no to an invitation like that?”