He cannot claim to have foreseen this from the beginning.
Nor can he claim, after everything, that it is altogether a surprise.
When they’d recalled him, asked (ordered) him to return, they’d used words; beautiful, gentle words (and it’s fitting, isn’t it, that they would weaponize this, this kindness, against him). Come home, Aziraphale. Sins are to be forgiven. The Almighty wills it.
Heaven needs you here. We need you here.
Crowley had known, of course. A clasp of a hand, a trail of fingers, a desperate plea (he’d tried to hide the panic, darling boy, of course he had — and Aziraphale, as always, had seen right through).
It’s a trap. You can’t go back there. You know what they’ll do. Angel, please.
Oh, my dear. I love you. I love you.
Aziraphale teeters on the precipice.
This is both metaphorical and terrifyingly literal, as he cannot take another backward step without hurtling down, down, down, past the Gates and the Spheres and the Thrones until he reaches the world below.
Of course it had been a trap. It had been inevitable, had it not, that they would demand recompense, would demand a re-trial, a just execution (and even now, even when Heaven is a They rather than an Us, he asks why, asks how — how beings of light, beings of love, can take just and execution, tie antonyms together and call it right).
He’d come ready.
There’s no way out of this, Aziraphale.
Gabriel’s voice, brittle ice and sharp, sharp hate. Aziraphale finds himself searching, even now, for a hint of the angel he’d once thought Gabriel to be. He finds none.
You know how this ends. It’s over. No discorporation this time. You’ll die for this.
No, Aziraphale says, and he smiles. I’ll Fall.
He steps back.
He’d always thought of Falling as a vicious thing. It’s what they tell you, Up There — a punishment reserved for the worst of them, the foul mutineers and the sinners and the weak, and why should it be gentle? Why should it be kind? It burns, they say. Burns your feathers clean away, one by torturous one, bleeds the iridescence out, out, out, along with your purpose, your self, your soul. It was something to fear. Something to dread.
(Aziraphale wonders, when he allows himself to wonder, why Heaven, why the side of morality and peace, wields terror as a blade to keep the faithful in line. It seems, after all, something more apt for the methods of Hell.
Much later, he’ll wonder once more, will turn it over in his mind in a way he never has before, and he’ll think: perhaps there was never a time the two were any different.)
The prospect of Falling has been a source of unease for as long as he can recall (and as long as he can recall is a very, very long while). He tries, on occasion, to imagine it; Crowley gives little away when the topic is breached — the cut of a bitter edge to his tone, perhaps, the flatness that rears its head in that particular way he reserves for this and this alone — but words are never forthcoming until they sit within a bookshop, Aziraphale to the left and Crowley to the right, and he has gathered enough of both courage and wine to brave the question himself.
What did it — feel like? Falling?
There is a silence, then, that seems to stretch out and out until it fills a small eternity, and Aziraphale thinks he may have overstepped, almost takes it back, but —
Dying, Crowley says, finally, and his eyes, unconcealed by dark lenses, do not leave his glass. It feels like dying.
Aziraphale presses no further. It sounds fitting, after all; he rather thinks Falling is its own brand of death. Hopes, desperately, that he will never know what it is to lose himself, lose everything.
It’s funny, then, that when he Falls, it is because he has found both.
He’s prepared for it, to feel the fire and the emptiness and the dying, it feels like dying, but —
It feels like flying.
Like coming alive.
He hits the ground, but feels no pain.
There is a space in his centre where there once was awareness, a gauge of proximity, always there, a bond one grows so accustomed to that it fades into peripherality — he senses no angels, no steady, unmoving knowledge that they are there, linked together, within the corners of his mind.
For a moment, the universe feels deeply, horribly silent.
But when he is lulled into the black, it is to the trill of bird-song and to the soft brush of grass against softer skin.
When eyes next open, it is to see Crowley, hovering, anxious, and Aziraphale can feel his hands alight upon his forehead, check him over, touch so gentle, so worried, and he reaches up, out, threads his fingers through Crowley’s. And it’s fitting, indescribably so, that his is the first face he sees.
His head turns, and there are his wings, splayed across the field, and — oh. Oh, but he’d been wrong. He’d deemed the wings of the Fallen colourless and drab, life seeped from them as holiness from the lost, had thought Crowley’s an exception (for no part of Crowley could be anything less than magnificent). But this — this is ink-dark and shining and beautiful. He wants to touch, to sift through night-sky plumage, can't be sure they're real, his, but he can’t, shan’t, because it would mean he must let go of Crowley’s hands.
How did you find me?
Crowley sobs, then; a choked thing, as though it hadn’t been intended at all. Even so, he looks at Aziraphale as though he has lost his senses, along with his — well. He’s lost lots of things, now, he supposes.
I felt you, Crowley says. I can always feel you.
But, Aziraphale thinks, it feels something like a tale of lovers and forbidden fruit.
One loses a garden, and gains the world.
Days later, they sit within a bookshop, Crowley to the left and Aziraphale to the right, and Crowley is the one to say it.
How does it feel?
Strange. New. Like… something was there, and now it’s not. It’s something different.
He’s seen it, the dogged guilt that sheens Crowley’s eyes, weighs down the lines of his body when he thinks Aziraphale isn’t paying attention (Aziraphale is always paying attention). He sees it each time Crowley glimpses obsidian wings, each time they dance around the why and how and I'm sorry, I'm sorry, that you did this for me.
Crowley blames himself, he knows. He’s told him, has pressed that this was choice and liberation and deliverance, but it will take time. They have time.
He stands, crosses the room, kneels before him — and it’s striking, the way Crowley leans into his touch as fingers frame jawline, lists forward until they are sharing breaths, and Aziraphale thinks that in this, in this, there is something worth worshipping.
Divine, he whispers, and closes the distance. It feels divine.