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Ineffable Husbands

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Over the years, Aziraphale had found a lot of very strange things in his books. Apart from the text, that was.

Sweets wrappers and the odd slip of paper were common enough, and Aziraphale had been known to come across everything from business cards and birthday wishes to feathers and leaves, but never had he found something as strange as what he did between pages 258 and 259 in his first edition of Johannes Kepler’s Astronomia Nova.

Simply put, it was a marriage certificate, and a very old one at that. The relevant parties had signed and dated it after the ceremony had been carried out, and their signatures were not written in any human tongue.

The mentioned date was 1609. Aziraphale remembered 1609. He had bought his copy of Astronomia Nova in 1609, right after Kepler had published it. He had started reading it in the same year. He could not recall actually finishing it, as he had unexpectedly run into Crowley at a market in Prague.

Aziraphale did not remember the marriage certificate, or what it claimed to have witnessed.

Aziraphale most decidedly did not remember anything of the sort.

But he did remember 1609, and Prague, and getting halfway through Astronomia Nova. Once he and Crowley had recognised each other, Crowley had insisted Aziraphale come tour Rudolf II’s Kunstkammer with him. Crowley didn’t have an invitation to look at the Emperor’s private collection of ‘curiosities,’ but he did know the man in charge of cataloguing them, and was confident a few miraculous strings could be pulled. Though Aziraphale felt he should have been reluctant to do such a thing, he had been strangely cheered to see Crowley, and had gone with him quite willingly. The Kunstkammer had been very interesting indeed, even if over half of the presented information had been factually inaccurate. Once they were done at the castle, they’d headed back into the city proper. One thing had led to another, and Aziraphale’s memory began to dissolve around the time Crowley had pushed a second bottle of Italian red into his hands.

Now, Aziraphale stared down at the book sitting on his bookshop counter as, ever so slowly, a few fragments started coming back to him. He remembered Crowley, cheeks flush with drink, laughing so hard he toppled sideways into Aziraphale, who clumsily caught him. He had a faint recollection of stumbling along a darkened street, Crowley’s arm wrapped around his waist, the two of them singing some drinking song very loudly and off-key, and then…maybe just the faintest memory of what might have been a church spire, standing out starkly against the dark magenta of the twilight sky…Aziraphale felt himself pale slightly. Maybe he did remember certain events of 1609 after all…

It was at that moment that the universe chuckled to itself and sent Crowley sauntering through the bookshop door with the faint tinkle of a bell.

Aziraphale’s head snapped up, and in the second it took to recognise his friend he felt every atom in his body take up the superposition of being both hot and cold at the same time.

“Afternoon, angel,” Crowley greeted easily, striding confidently between the precarious stacks of books as the door swung shut behind him.

“Cr—Crowley,” Aziraphale stammered, hands shooting to the book lying open on the counter. “I—uh—” His hands fought with the book as he tried to simultaneously close it, pick it up, and slide it off the counter.

“Eloquent as usual, I see,” Crowley said cheerfully as he neared.

Aziraphale’s hands were doing an exceptionally poor job of moving the book and its damning contents out of view, and he shot it a nervous, furtive glance.

Unfortunately, when his eyes flicked back up to Crowley, he saw that the demon was now regarding the book with interest.

“I—uh—wh—what are you doing here?” Aziraphale fumbled, quickly pushing himself to his feet in the hopes of diverting the demon’s attention.

“What’s with the book?” Crowley asked, undeterred in the slightest.

“Wh—what book?” Aziraphale tried, hastily yanking his hands away from Astronomia Nova.

“The one you keep dropping,” Crowley said with amusement.

“I—nothing,” Aziraphale said immediately, fighting valiantly to keep his gaze from flicking down to Astronomia Nova as his hands reached for it blindly. “Just another book. You know me, lots of—”

Crowley lunged for the book. Aziraphale’s hands found the edge of the binding and he tried to yank it back towards himself, but Crowley had the speed and strength of the serpent he had once been, and he wrested it from Aziraphale’s inferior grip in under a second.

“Oi,” Aziraphale protested, but Crowley was already dancing away, holding the book safely out of the angel’s reach.

“Now we’ll see what’s got your knickers in a knot,” Crowley crowed, and opened the book.

Aziraphale, accepting defeat, grimaced and waited for Crowley to find what he was looking for.

“I should hardly think it’s these fascinating astronomical diagrams,” Crowley commented dryly, flipping through the book. “Though perhaps—aha!” The book stilled as Crowley pulled free the wrinkled piece of parchment that had been shoved between its leaves. “What do we have here?” He held it out in front of himself as though for a dramatic reading, the paper crinkling slightly as he did so. He drew breath, cast Aziraphale a triumphant glance—Aziraphale steeled himself—and began to read.

“On this day, the twenty-first of May, 1609, at St Mary on the Grass were joined in holy matri—” Crowley choked and froze, eyes skipping over the rest of the paper and coming to a dead halt at the bottom, where Aziraphale and Crowley had both signed their true names. Both signatures were slightly wobbly, and there was a little heart next to Crowley’s, but they were unmistakably theirs.

Aziraphale gave Crowley a moment to process it, and then awkwardly cleared his throat. “We can get it annulled,” he offered.

Crowley didn’t respond, and Aziraphale eyed him nervously. He knew Crowley got uncomfortable around things like this, and was afraid he would think this was some sort of angelic ploy devised by Aziraphale. The last time Crowley had thought such a thing—admittedly with good reason—he had refused to talk to Aziraphale for nearly a half-century.

“Is this real?” Crowley asked at length, eyes never leaving the piece of paper.

“I think so,” Aziraphale said.

Crowley stared at it for a moment more, eyes running across a particular line of text several times. He swallowed. “I…I don’t remember this.”

Aziraphale cleared his throat again. “I—er—I don’t really, either,” he admitted. “I just found it five minutes ago. But if you look at the date—do you remember, we ran into each other in Prague—”

Crowley paled slightly.

“But, like I said, we can get it annulled,” Aziraphale said quickly, moving out from behind the counter and nervously wringing his hands together. “Seeing as neither of us remembers it, it seems unfair to hold us to it.”

Crowley blinked and looked up at Aziraphale as he approached, the paper lax in his hand. “Yes,” he agreed, voice slightly distant.

“All right,” Aziraphale said, relieved the situation had been salvaged. He tugged the certificate from Crowley’s grip, and Crowley slowly closed the book and handed it to him. “Sorry about this,” Aziraphale said, hugging the book to his chest. “I’ll have the papers drawn up later today. The dates might raise a few eyebrows, but it should be doable.”

“…Yeah,” Crowley said.

Aziraphale gave his friend a tight, worried smile and moved to set the book and certificate back on the counter. When he turned around again, Crowley was scratching the back of his neck, expression conflicted.

Aziraphale bit the inside of his cheek, hoping Crowley wouldn’t read the wrong thing into all of this. He shifted sideways so he was blocking Crowley’s view of the counter, and rubbed his hands together nervously. “Now, my dear, was there something you wanted when you came in?”

Crowley’s gaze moved to Aziraphale, and he seemed to mentally shake himself. “Oh, ah, not really.” He glanced down at his watch, and his voice strengthened. “Actually, I should be getting back. I have…things…demon things…to do, ah, really urgently.” Crowley started edging backwards towards the door, eyes flicking nervously to Aziraphale as he did so.

Aziraphale felt something cold settle into the pit of his stomach as he watched the demon inch away from him. Crowley had taken it the wrong way after all. “This—this doesn’t change anything, right?” Aziraphale asked Crowley worriedly, taking two steps after the demon. “We’re still…still friends, right?”

“Ah…yeah,” Crowley said, reaching the door and beginning to pull it open, the bell tinkling mournfully as he did so. “Friends. Yeah, of course.” Crowley, most of the way across the threshold, hesitated and looked back at Aziraphale. “Uh, take care,” he said, and hastily closed the door behind him.

Aziraphale let out a worried breath as he watched Crowley’s retreating shape through the shop windows. When he had gone, Aziraphale turned back to the counter, eyes falling on the marriage certificate. He reached out and trailed his fingertips over its uneven surface, feeling the subtle imperfections of the paper and the smooth grooves of the penstrokes. He paused when he reached the sigil that was Crowley’s signature, wondering what Crowley had been feeling when he wrote it.

Then he swallowed thickly, blindly opened Astronomia Nova, and shoved the certificate roughly into the book, wishing he’d never bothered to open the damned thing in the first place.

 

***

 

Three days later, Aziraphale arrived at Crowley’s Mayfair flat with the annulment papers. It was a standard contract, and since they hadn’t been sharing property the legalese was fairly straightforward.

Because he valued Crowley’s privacy, Aziraphale knocked on the door to Crowley’s flat, and then, because he valued his own time, he let himself in.

“Crowley?” Aziraphale called, wandering into the demon’s spotless, colourless lounge.

The sofa stirred and Crowley propped himself up from where he’d evidently been stretched out on its length, staring up at the ceiling.

“A—Aziraphale,” Crowley said in surprise, swinging his legs off the sofa cushions and hastily straightening his jacket with one hand.

“I brought the papers,” Aziraphale said without preamble, and held them out.

Crowley blinked at them and only after a moment took the offered bundle.

“I’ve already signed my parts,” Aziraphale explained. “Just sign at the yellow flags, and I’ll file it at the divorce court.”

Crowley looked down at the pile in his lap, and Aziraphale steeled himself to watch Crowley put pen to paper. In truth, signing his portion of the papers had been harder than Aziraphale had been expecting, but he would much rather have Crowley as just a friend than not at all. He didn’t think he could bear the demon ghosting him for several decades, not anymore.

Instead of immediately signing away the unremembered union, however, the demon kept looking down at the papers in his hands. “Okay,” he said after a long moment, making no motion to flip to the next page or turn to one with a flag.

Aziraphale waited, and eventually Crowley looked up at him. “Um, was there something else you wanted?”

Aziraphale shifted on his feet, off guard. “Well, aren’t you going to sign them?”

Crowley looked down at the papers and then back up at Aziraphale. “Can I have a chance to read them first?”

Aziraphale blinked at him. “Of—of course.”

“I’ll bring them back to you when I’m done,” Crowley said.

Aziraphale nodded. For a moment he just stood there, conflicted, and then he nodded again. “Right, well, then, I’ll just be going, shall I?”

Crowley stood as Aziraphale moved back towards the door. As Aziraphale crossed the threshold, he turned to see that Crowley had followed him and was now hovering in the doorway behind him, one hand on the edge of the open door.

Aziraphale opened his mouth to bid him goodbye, but Crowley spoke first. “This whole marriage thing—it’s a little ridiculous, isn’t it?”

Aziraphale paused. “Yeah.”

“I mean,” Crowley said, and there was something almost pleading in his voice, “an angel and a demon…it’s ridiculous, right?”

Aziraphale cast Crowley a sidelong glance, and was surprised to see the openness of the demon’s features, and the hint of an anxious, half-faded smile. “Y—yes,” Aziraphale agreed, quickly diverting his gaze as his throat tightened. “Ridiculous.”

 

***

 

Aziraphale waited all the next day for Crowley to arrive at his bookshop with the papers, but the demon failed to materialize. He didn’t show up for the rest of the week either, and when he finally turned up, nearly a week and a half later, there were no papers in sight. Aziraphale was about to ask after them, concerned Crowley might be avoiding him because of what they had implied, but Crowley quickly invited him to the Ritz instead. Aziraphale was so relieved Crowley still wanted to do that sort of thing that he hastily pushed the papers to the back of his mind.

Once they had finished at the Ritz and were strolling back towards Soho, however, Aziraphale felt duty-bound to ask after them.

“Have you, er, had a chance to read through the annulment papers?” he ventured.

“Oh, yeah,” Crowley said without looking at him. “I’ve been meaning to say, I set them down next to my plants and then when I was watering my begonias I accidentally spilled water all over them.”

Aziraphale absorbed that. “I can get you another copy,” he offered worriedly. “You should have said something sooner.”

Crowley made a noise between a grunt of acknowledgement and a sort of ambivalent hum, which Aziraphale took to mean Crowley wanted another copy.

Aziraphale opened his mouth to confirm that, but Crowley grabbed his arm and pointed out a particularly funny advert on a bus stop shelter on the opposite side of the road, and Aziraphale was more than happy to have his attention diverted.

 

***

 

When Crowley next stopped by the bookshop, four days later, Aziraphale had a new set of papers drawn up and waiting for him.

“Here’s a fresh copy, my dear,” Aziraphale told him, trying to inject some semblance of cheerfulness into his voice. “Already signed by me.”

“Thanks,” Crowley said, taking the papers, folding them without looking at them, and shoving them unceremoniously under his arm. “Come on, if we leave now we can get to St James’s before the swarms of tourists descend.”

Aziraphale followed Crowley outside, and as the demon slid into the driver’s seat of the Bentley he tossed the papers onto the backseat, where they promptly slid off the cushion and onto the floor.

Aziraphale opened his mouth to say something, but Crowley just waved at him to get in and Aziraphale put it out of his mind.

When they were pulling back up in front of the bookshop again, Aziraphale’s hair windblown and a fragment of a leaf clinging to Crowley’s shoulder, Aziraphale grudgingly decided to remind Crowley about the papers, lest he leave them outside in the Bentley and have them ruined again, this time by the rain.

“Don’t worry about it, angel,” Crowley replied calmly, twisting in the driver’s seat as Aziraphale closed the passenger door behind him. He hesitated. “You do want me to sign them, right?”

Aziraphale paused in surprise. “Of—of course,” he stammered. “Why wouldn’t I? We didn’t—it was an accident in the first place, and I wouldn’t want to hold you to anything—or—or to jeopardise…well…you know…”

Crowley frowned at him, and Aziraphale felt his cheeks flush with embarrassment. Perhaps he should have stopped there, but he wanted to reassure Crowley that he was on his side, no matter how many times he had to trip over his own tongue to do so. “And I—I just—well, it’s like you said, isn’t it? An angel and a demon—it’s ridiculous. Unrealistic.”

Crowley gave Aziraphale a long, cool look, and Aziraphale couldn’t stop himself from looking away when he felt his chest tighten.

“It’s okay, angel,” Crowley said. “I think I understand.”

 

***

 

Over the next week and a half, Crowley dropped in on Aziraphale twice more, but he didn’t bring the annulment papers. Aziraphale, mildly embarrassed now about the whole thing and just relieved that Crowley still wanted to spend time with him, elected not to mention it.

Once two weeks had elapsed, however, Aziraphale felt he had to bring the subject up, just so he could stop having it hanging over his head.

“Er, my dear,” Aziraphale began, adjusting his stride slightly as the two of them veered around a woman dragging a large suitcase in St James’s, “I hate to mention it, but did you ever, er, think any more about—”

“I have, actually,” Crowley said, catching on to what Aziraphale was hinting at with remarkable speed. “But I’m afraid I’ve misplaced those darn papers again.” He sounded perfectly cheerful about the entire thing.

Aziraphale frowned. “Do you, er, want me to get you another set?”

“Nah,” Crowley said, equally as cheerfully. “I’m sure they’re in my flat somewhere. They’ll turn up eventually.”

“…Okay,” Aziraphale said.

“And it’s not as though it’s terribly time-sensitive, right?” Crowley asked, glancing over at the angel.

“Ah, no, I suppose not,” Aziraphale said slowly, and when he met Crowley’s gaze he was surprised to see the hesitant, hopeful expression on his friend’s face. And then, all in a flash, Aziraphale realised that Crowley was playing a different game altogether, and perhaps had been for some time now.

“Well then, no harm, no foul,” Crowley said brightly, and linked their arms together.

Aziraphale blinked at Crowley in surprise, but the demon only gave him a warm smile.

I’ll be damned.

Aziraphale blinked again, stunned, and felt his indirect hold on Crowley’s arm tighten. “You—you’re serious?”

Crowley’s eyes searched his briefly, and then, to Aziraphale’s horror, his smile faltered. “Well…yeah?” he said hesitantly. Aziraphale watched a flicker of doubt cross his friend’s face, and Crowley quickly looked away, voice shrinking. “I thought—you said—”

“Oh no, my dear, it’s not that,” Aziraphale said quickly, mentally kicking himself for having spoken so thoughtlessly. “I just—you surprised me, is all—”

Crowley half-turned his face back towards him, and Aziraphale verbally stumbled on, trying to clarify his position as quickly as possible. “It’s not—I don’t mind, not in the slightest, but with what you said, I thought you didn’t want—”

“Oh,” Crowley said, and Aziraphale was heartened to hear the relief in his friend’s voice. “That’s what I thought, at first—”

“Sorry.”

“—and then—”

“Yeah.”

For a long few moments they were quiet, still arm-in-arm as they continued along the path in St James’s, neither paying the slightest attention to what was actually in front of them.

Now that the full implications of the situation were sinking in, Aziraphale was beginning to feel a little weak in the knees, a state of affairs not helped by the fact that he was becoming increasingly distracted by the thought of all that might have been lost had he been a little more persistent in nagging Crowley to sign the papers.

At length, Crowley gently tugged on Aziraphale’s arm. “Do you really think it’s unrealistic?” he asked, sounding a little worried about it himself.

Aziraphale tilted his head towards Crowley and shrugged, relieved to have his attention returned to the present. “Don’t see why it’s any less realistic than anything else, to be honest.” He smiled faintly. “And we don’t seem to have made a right hash of it so far.”

Crowley snorted, eliciting a smile from Aziraphale.

“It’s been—what?—over four hundred years? I’d say we’ve been doing smashingly.”

“Is that how it works, angel?”

“I’ve got a piece of paper that seems to think so,” Aziraphale said, feeling his smile grow as he looked over at Crowley. The demon appeared amused but no longer worried, and the lightness was back in his eyes. Aziraphale found himself strangely cheered to see it there, and when Crowley began to return Aziraphale’s smile, the angel positively beamed at him. Crowley coloured slightly but didn’t look too repentant, and Aziraphale hastily returned his attention to watching where he was putting his feet.

They were silent for another short time, Crowley’s silent presence comforting in a way Aziraphale wasn’t wholly familiar with. He supposed things would be different now. They would have to be.

Aziraphale was still turning that over in his mind when Crowley spoke again.

“We’re going to be okay, right?”

Aziraphale didn’t have to ask what Crowley meant. It was the same thing he was asking himself.

“Yeah,” Aziraphale said, and hoped very dearly that it was true. “I think we are.”

 

***

 

One Year Later

 

The door to Aziraphale’s bookshop swung open with the tinkle of a bell, and Aziraphale felt a smile creep over his face before he’d even looked up. Potential customers never strode so confidently into the shop.

“Hi-ya, angel,” Crowley said cheerfully, crossing to the counter. He was carrying an old-looking book under one arm, and Aziraphale eyed it with interest as Crowley held it out to him. “For you.”

Aziraphale took it, casting the demon a somewhat suspicious look. “Since when do you give me gifts?” he asked, carefully opening the book to the title page. He looked down at it and blinked in surprise, hands stilling. After a few long moments, he looked back up at Crowley, mouth dropping open slightly. “But this is a first edition of Micrographia—however did you get it?”

“I have my methods,” Crowley said enigmatically, leaning against the edge of the counter with a grin. “Happy May twenty-first.”

Aziraphale blinked at him. “Oh—oh yes, I see.”

Crowley raised an eyebrow, and Aziraphale felt his cheeks warm.

“I’m afraid I didn’t get you anything, my dear,” Aziraphale admitted after a moment. “I didn’t realise you were getting me something. I thought we’d just go to dinner; I bought a bottle of wine—”

“That works for me,” Crowley said easily. His serpentine eyes narrowed slightly. “Though this isn’t some clever ploy to hide the fact that you forgot, is it?”

“Of course not,” Aziraphale said hastily. The truth was, he’d nearly forgotten, except he’d seen an advert for a jewellers a week ago, and it had occurred to him that celebrating their anniversary might be a human tradition Crowley would be interested in adopting. He’d decided to hedge his bets and booked them for the Ritz, and was glad now for his forethought. “I would never.”

This answer seemed to moderately appease Crowley, and he settled more comfortably against the edge of the counter.

“What do you say we drive over to the V&A first?” Crowley suggested. “We could look at the silver snuffboxes and grab afternoon tea at the cafe.”

Aziraphale smiled, setting Micrographia aside for now. He stroked a finger down its leather spine before standing, silently promising to give it a thorough perusal at his first opportunity. “I’d love to, my dear.”

As Aziraphale walked out from around the counter, Crowley offered Aziraphale his hand, which Aziraphale took. They exchanged hesitant, nervous smiles and Crowley began tugging him towards the bookshop door.

It was new, this hand-holding business. It had been almost uncomfortable at first, but Aziraphale had warmed to it over time, and now found it immensely enjoyable. It was slow going, their out-of-order romance, but Aziraphale was optimistic they’d get there in the end.

And, in the meantime, he was more than happy to stick by Crowley’s side for as many twenty-firsts of May as it took.