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in the house we remain

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Aziraphale does not go back to the study that night - instead he settles into bed with his books and a mug of cocoa. He devours the remaining three chapters of The Downward Spiral , more than a little emotional that the angel chose, with unmitigated, loving bravery, to fall from Grace because it meant he would be reunited in Hell with his demon. The book ends with the two of them traversing the blackest pits, in search of each other, brought back together for eternity in the darkness of Hell.

It's so very right, and it touches Aziraphale somewhere in the deepest crevices of his heart. It is familiar, as though he had walked straight down into Hell, right beside the angel, guided by Crowley's prose. He closes the book and sets it aside on his nightstand, and swiftly grabs A Place Beyond the Pit to replace it.

Aziraphale yawns and settles back against the headboard, daring a glance at the clock. It’s not even 11 PM yet; plenty of time to start this new book. Although, Aziraphale does fear he may not make it far into the text before sleep claims him for the night. Oh well, at the very least he could knock out a few pages.

He opens the book carefully to its dedication page - another pang of sadness washing over him as he reads Crowley’s dejected words for the second time:  

Dedicated, with regret, to myself: for being the only person to ever believe in me.

He sighs and touches the page. 

“My dear, I believe in you.” 

And maybe it’s just Aziraphale’s imagination, but he could swear he feels the room grow a trifle colder when he says it. He looks up from the book and glances around his bedroom. The hall is dimly lit - the yellow glow from the nightlight he’d installed bathing it in warmth. His room is illuminated by the white light of his bedside lamp - little shadows linger here and there, but every piece of this place is his own. Even those shadows, he claims them as though they were the same as his knicknacks situated atop the shelves or the art hanging on his walls. 

He turns his attention back to the book and flips to the opening page.

...

There is something to be said about the places beyond the pit. The high-up, the upper realm, the places where the light has decided it would like to live forever. High walls and beams of brightness that lead away from, but forever tantalize, the abyss; the angelic masses that shine their brightness above these holes like a candle in a cave for all the lower beings to envy. 

The lower being you are looking at is me. 

We, and me, these awful lower beings, these wretched, baser things. Buried, abandoned, swallowing dirt and rainwater and earthworm flesh like the animal I was bound to be. My darkened eyes, my hollow cheeks, my desperate claws extending upwards, afraid - so very afraid - to let myself rot. 

There is something to be said about the places beyond the pit.

If only I could see them. 

...

Aziraphale stops reading abruptly after that last sentence, his eyes wrenching up and settling, unfocused, on the opposite wall. He turns the words, spoken so painfully in the voice he has assigned to Crowley, over and over in his head. All of a sudden, he is overwhelmed, chest tight, struggling beneath their weight. They sit like bricks across his breastbone, pressing down, refusing to let him breathe. 

He tilts his head back against the headboard and lets his eyes slip shut. This might be a book for another day. He cannot explain it, cannot put reason to it, but these opening lines are too much for him now. 

It is too much to hear Crowley - in his head - describe all the ways he must rot. 

Aziraphale shakes his head and forces out a laugh. Ridiculous . These are Crowley’s words, of course, but this is a character’s voice, a character's story. He huffs a blubbering sigh past his lips and places the receipt he’s been using for a bookmark between the pages and sets the book on the nightstand, just atop the book he'd finished earlier. 

He should go to bed and get some sleep, anyway. 

He reaches over to turn the lamp off, but pauses as his eyes land on his wallet. Aziraphale bites the inside of his cheek and watches as his hand reaches out to grab the wallet of its own accord. His fingers open the fine leather with care and remove Crowley’s photograph from its folds. Eyes trained on the picture, he sets the wallet back on the nightstand and relaxes back into bed. He stays on his side, tucks himself under his covers, and lets his head sink into his plush down pillow.

Oh, to have laughed with Crowley like he is laughing in this photograph. To have heard the sounds he made, to have seen the crinkle of his eyes, or the laugh lines around his mouth, all in vivid, provocative motion. 

“It’s not fair,” Aziraphale whispers to the picture, “It’s not fair that you aren’t here…” 

Silly thing, that: yearning for a dead man.

Rather pointless, really. 

::

That night Aziraphale dreams of a boisterous, proud laugh.

He dreams of quiet touches, of sitting side by side on the couch. Slender fingers gripping his shoulder. Soft auburn-red hair beneath his hands, tangled around his fingers like the finest of silks. Golden, tawny eyes locked with his. A mouth with supple lips and an infectious taste. 

That night, he dreams of a smile he would protect with his very life.

He dreams of a voice he can almost hear, whispered so very gently into his ear.

“Aziraphale…”

::

Aziraphale wakes in the morning feeling proper and refreshed; he hasn’t had a night of sleep that fulfilling since the move. It’s a welcomed comfort and he wonders if perhaps he’s finally feeling at home. He pushes his head back into the pillow with a contented sigh, basking in the blue-yellow glow of his bedroom in the morning.

He turns his head to the other side of the bed, his eyes falling on the polaroid, lying haphazard atop the mattress. Aziraphale groans; he must have fallen asleep with it last night, same as he fell asleep with his bedside lamp still on. He picks the photograph up between his fingers and eyes it for a moment, a lazy grin on his face. It’s far too early in the morning to put on the airs of holding back his emotions.

“Good morning,” he whispers into the silence of his bedroom.

It should feel silly. Honestly, it should probably feel a little batty just to say it.

But it doesn’t.

He resolves to go for a little exploratory walk today. Perhaps he’ll walk the perimeter of the pond. Maybe bring a picnic blanket, and Crowley’s book, get a little reading done. It all sounds rather nice. He tries, as he makes these mental plans, to forget the fact that Crowley died there just 11 years ago.

::

Once dressed, Aziraphale grabs a blanket, his cardigan, his book, and Crowley’s photograph - safely stored with the book in the deep pocket of his sweater. He heads downstairs and exits through the rear door, just off the kitchen, that will take him straight to the water. He strides through the ever-growing grass (he should probably have someone come trim it) towards the pond. He selects a spot on the portion of the perimeter that is closest to the house, spreading his blanket out in preparation, but he doesn’t sit down. Instead, he sets the book down atop the blanket and proceeds to follow the edge of the pond, around its edges.

He strolls at a slow pace, taking in the sight of everything.

The wind is a bit cool - a bit of the pre-autumn briskness threatening the air, but not yet giving way to the true chill of the fall. This truly is a beautiful place - all the more tragic given its somewhat recent history. Aziraphale bites his lip and stares across the water. The pond is glistening in the sunlight, but its surface is quiet and still. The land around it is full of lush greenery, dotted with the yellows, pinks, and purples of the wildflowers and the brown trunks of the trees. Soon, these colors will change - the grass fading to brown, the leaves turning yellow, orange, and blood red with their death - and winter will be soon to follow. But for now…. For now, it is fine. For now, he can pretend this is a place of piece, and not the place of death.

He doesn’t want to think about it, but he cannot help his mind from drifting to Crowley’s death with every step he takes. He shoves his hand into his pocket as he walks, fingers lightly gripping the polaroid that lives there. Every place he pauses, he cannot help but wonder if this is the spot where it happened. If not there, then perhaps here; he takes a few more steps forward. Without thinking, he pulls the polaroid from his pocket and stares at it, continuing his walk around the pond.

A sudden, cold breeze gushes around him, so strong and forceful, and the chill of it claws deep into his core. He moves to tighten his cardigan around his front, but as he does, the wind catches the photograph and blows it straight out his hand and down into the water. 

“Fuck!” Aziraphale shouts, stumbling towards the water with urgency, “No, no, come on.” 

His hands splash at the water, beckoning the polaroid closer to him; he snatches it up as soon as it is close enough. He shakes off as much water as he can, then desperately tries to dry it off with the hem of his cardigan. It only kind of works, the fabric only taking so much moisture with it.

“Damnit,” he whimpers, "you absolute klutz…" A sharp prickle of wetness begins to threaten his eyes, for reasons he cannot fully justify to himself. He blinks the tears away before they can start, and continues to dry the polaroid off as best he can, dreading the idea that it might actually be ruined. 

It doesn’t look ruined, but he is well aware of the damage water can do. 

He sighs and stares at it more closely; the photograph is wrinkling a little from the wetness, but other than that, it appears okay. 

“I’m so sorry,” he apologizes, to no one in particular, (well… to Crowley, if he’s honest).

He places the polaroid back in his pocket, safe and secure, away from the offending breeze, and moves to gather up his blanket and book. He rather doesn’t feel like being out here anymore.

But he stops when something shimmering in the water catches his eye. 

It’s there, just where the pond water meets the land, shiny and glistening in the murky silt. Aziraphale furrows his brow and kneels down on the grass, leaning close to investigate. He dips his hand into the water and lets his fingers search in the silt until they find something solid… ad metallic. He snatches the item up and lays it flat in his palm. 

It’s a ring. A men’s ring - silver, in the shape of a coiling snake. 

With a quick glance back at the house, Azirphale closes his fist around the ring. He quickens his pace, grabs his blanket and book, and heads back inside. He drops his things on the kitchen table and brings the ring to the sink. He fumbles the polaroid out of his pocket, using a dishtowel to press away any lingering drops of water on its surface, and he sets it on the windowsill to dry. He hopes to god that its image doesn’t fade. 

Turning his attention back to the ring, he flips the sink on and investigates the jewelry further. Dirt and silt is caked up in the fine lines that make up the snake’s engraved scales; there is a gritty red-brown color to this grime. Aziraphale doesn’t want to think about what it might be. With the water as hot as he can tolerate, he gets some soap and begins to scrub the ring clean. He dries it with his shirt and stares at its now-shining surface as he meanders blindly to sit at the kitchen table. 

Aziraphale turns it over in his fingers - over and over - taking in its features and all its details. The eye of the snake is a small, deep-red gem. A garnet, perhaps? It’s not quite bright enough to be a ruby. 

His brain conjures an image of Crowley, lingering on the tattoo emblazoned into his temple; he pictures this ring coiled delicately around his finger.

“This must have been yours, too…” He whispers to the room.

He doesn’t know why, but suddenly, without warning, Aziraphale aches to put it on.

It’s a touch too small for his ring finger, but it fits quite well over his pinky. The icy chill of the metal warms almost instantly to his body heat, and Aziraphale smiles. He drags the fingers of his other hand across its surface, basking in its comforting presece. He doesn’t even want to take it off, so he doesn’t.

Somewhere across the house, he hears a steady thump, thump, thump. A creak of the floorboards. A soft shuffle across the wood.

He holds his hand out in front of him, staring intently at the ring. Aziraphale's smile widens.

::

That evening, once the sun has set and the night has grown quiet, Aziraphale eventually admits that he needs to retire to bed. And so, with the ring still on his finger, he cleans up his dishes from dinner, makes himself a quick cup of tea, and trudges up the stairs with his book and his blanket. He yawns as he reaches the top, and absently pats the pocket of his cardigan, feeling for the small rectangular photograph of Crowley, but he feels nothing. He stops short in the doorway of his bedroom, remembering quickly that he’d left it on the windowsill in the kitchen.

“Shoot,” he whispers to himself. He hurries and sets his tea down on the nightstand then tiptoes back towards the stairs. He’s about to descend them when the sound of a steady dripping catches his attention. He pauses just at the top of the staircase and turns his attention to the right, facing the study.

He can’t see any water dripping, but the stain on the floor has grown, its shape now little larger than yesterday. He furrows his brow and heads towards the study. He makes sure to step around, and not on top of, the stain. Despite himself, a little bubble of anxiety begins to grow in his chest as he approaches the darkened room, illuminated only by the sliver of moonlight filtering in through the window. Aziraphale fumbles with the lightswitch, bathing the room in soft, yellow light, chasing away the shadows. The dripping sound stops as soon as the room is illuminated.

It’s chilly in the study, certainly colder than the rest of the house had been, and Aziraphale wraps himself up a little in his sweater as he looks around the room. Nothing appears to be out of place, but the silence hangs heavy in the air, broken only by the sound of his breathing. Aziraphale licks his lips; he’s about to leave when his eyes suddenly fixate on the corner of the desk.

The polaroid - a little bit faded and crinkled from the water - sits neatly atop the black desk, Crowley’s laughing figure still visible despite its damage.

Aziraphale’s brow creases.

“What… you were…”

Downstairs…

He had left the photo on the windowsill downstairs, he's sure of it.

Aziraphale steps closer, one hand on the back of the chair, and leans over the desk, his eyes trained on the photograph. He picks it up and turns it over in his fingers. It looks the same as it had when he was downstairs; he sets it back down on the desk. He simply cannot fathom a reason for why it would be up here and not on the windowsill downstairs where he’d left it.

He looks around the room, gaze darting over his shoulders and behind him, but he sees nothing. His attention turns back to the desk, the typewriter catching his attention as he does.

Dread surges in his chest.

There, typed on the page, beneath his own text, is a brand new row of words.

H  E LL  O, T ES T I NG.

“Oh my god !” He shouts, fumbling away from the desk. He knocks the chair over in the process, sending it clattering to the wooden floor in a flurry of motion. Aziraphale almost goes down with it.

Panic guiding his motions, Aziraphale rushes forward and yanks the piece of paper out of the typewriter. He rips it up, not caring as the pieces fall and clutter up his floor. He pants as he stares down at the shreds, breath hitching and uneasy. He expects - well, he doesn’t know what he expects. He expects something to happen; something to come out of the shadows, some kind of evil to surround him? But nothing does.

The room is cold, but the room is calm. The air still, unbroken save for Aziraphale's sounds and motions. 

Aziraphale lets his eyes settle back on the photograph of Crowley, still perched on the edge of the desk.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, a quiet, persistent voice tells him: it’s alright . He looks down at his pinky finger where Crowley’s shiny, silver ring resides, and he clutches his fist. And just like that, his anxiety begins to dull. 

He steels himself - sucks in a deep breath for posterity - and dares to step close to the desk once again.

“Okay…” He whispers.

With quivering hands - my god, why can’t he stop their tremble - he reaches out to grab a new, blank sheet of paper. His motions are mechanical, but barely contained, as he rolls the new paper onto the platen and sets the carriage to the start of a new line.

“Okay… This is.... This is fine. This is okay. Tickety-boo.”

He has no idea who he’s talking to. Distinctly doesn’t want to acknowledge that he knows exactly who he hopes is listening to him speak.

It’s official , he thinks, you’re losing it, old man. You have officially lost it.

But he doesn’t stop what he’s doing, no matter how correct his internal monologue may be.

Body trembling, he rights the desk chair and settles into it. He lets his fingers sit atop the keys, licks his lips, and forces himself to type.

HI.

Aziraphale pauses for a moment, and then adds:

I LIKE YOUR BOOKS.

He feels ridiculous ; this entire situation is patently absurd. He doesn’t even know why he’s doing this, and yet, he does it anyway. Aziraphale lifts his hands off the keys and settles them into his lap, muscles rigid, fingers clenched together. He watches the typewriter in anticipation, breath bated, anxious. He is half-expectant, half-petrified; but no matter how intensely he stares at it, the typewriter does nothing. Aziraphale sits there for five solid minutes, staring at an inanimate typewriter as though he expects it to come to life. But it doesn’t. Another chill ghosts over him, leaving gooseflesh in its wake.

He doesn’t know exactly what he’d expected to happen - perhaps that the keys might have started typing on their own?

The keys do no such thing (of course they don't; why on earth would that be a sensible thing to expect them to do?)

Aziraphale sighs and stands from the chair. He pushes the carriage of the typewriter to the right and turns the roller knob so that the paper is on a new line. And with that, he leaves the study, flicking the light off and heading to bed, as he’d original intended.

And if he stays up a few minutes longer that night, just listening for the tell-tale click-clack of the keys, well, that’s his business.

(He doesn’t hear anything).

::

When the morning comes, Aziraphale is up and out of bed like a child on Christmas morning rushing down to the tree. All his previous anxieties and fears from the previous evening are gone, as though he'd never felt them at all, as he shuffles into the study to investigate the typewriter.

His face falls when he sees that the only letters on the page are the ones he, himself, typed up the night before.

HI. I LIKE YOUR BOOKS.

Disappointment seeps into his skin like the cold. He's not prone to admit it, but in this moment, Aziraphale feels like quite an idiot. This entire thing was silly… Ridiculous to think that perhaps maybe Crowley… No. Aziraphale stops his thoughts short. Perhaps maybe nothing

With a low sigh, he kneels down to the floor and begins to pick up the pieces of the paper he’d torn up the night before. No use leaving the mess here. As he finds each piece, a pang of guilt washes over him. He shouldn't have torn them up. Once he's gathered all the pieces, he shoves them into his pocket and stands, turning his attention to the scenery out the window. 

Perhaps the midnight darkness and the isolation out here really are getting to him. He needs to get out of the house for a bit, make a trip into town, maybe even swing by SoHo, experience people and life again. Aziraphale groans - that sounds dreadful . Although there is the bookstore that he used to live above; he always did love that store. So many unique items, so many things one couldn’t find anywhere but there. 

Something sad dips down in Aziraphale’s chest as he realizes, with painful clarity, that he doesn’t even want to do that . Because ultimately… he doesn’t want to read any other books besides Crowley’s. He doesn’t even want to go look at other books, his brain and his heart far too preoccupied with Crowley.

He should at least get out of the house, though… He does need to make a grocery run, after all.

Aziraphale nods to himself, reaffirming the idea to himself, and moves to leave. He pauses in the doorway, turns around, and hurries back to the desk. He leans over the typewriter and types two more words.

I’M LISTENING. 

He types them because... Well, just because. And with that, he leaves, determined to at least see a little bit of the world beyond this house for the first time in a couple of weeks.

::

Aziraphale does make it to London. He stops by a few local cafes and bakeries, picking up little treats here and there, morsels he can take back home with him and savor. He, too, makes it to the bookshop he'd once lived above, planning to hit the grocer after he'd paid the shop a visit.

The owner is thrilled to see him. She's a wily old woman, Madame Tracy, full of spark and plenty of spunk, and she makes sure Aziraphale knows exactly how much she and her husband have missed him since the move.

"Oh, you wouldn't believe these new tenants upstairs, plodding away like a couple of elephants!" she tells him as she readies a quick brew of tea for them both, "But oh, my, I bet the country is just lovely . So quiet, peaceful. Is it everything you'd hoped for?"

Aziraphale smiles at her and takes the cup she offers. He thinks about his isolated cottage - thinks of his strange dreams, the darkness, and the noises. He thinks of water stains and the photograph of Crowley that he has tucked securely into his pocket. He beams at her and nods.

"Oh, my, yes. And more."

"Well, we are thrilled for you. You know Mr. Shadwell and I would love to do what you've done, but oh, I just can't part with this silly old shop just yet."

She plops down on a chair in front of him, taking a long slurp of her tea.

"So tell me, love, what brings you by? Just wanted to say hello or did you have your mind on a book?"

Aziraphale pauses, the rim of his cup pressed against his mouth. He thinks about his home, the typewriter, the mysterious row of books on his shelf. He thinks, as he is so apt to do lately, of Crowley . Aziraphale clears his throat.

"Have you ever, um," he swallows and slips his hand into his pocket so he can grip the photograph of Crowley for support. He doesn't know why he needs to do it, doesn't know why it offers him such security in this moment, but he supposes it doesn't matter, "have you ever seen any books by an author named Anthony J. Crowley?" 

He hadn't come here to ask this question, but it happens nonetheless. Madame Tracey furrows her brow, her eyes drifting away from Aziraphale's in thought.

"Crowley, Crowley…" she muses, "Wait, it's not that strange occultist chap, is it? Or was that Aleister Crowley?"

Aziraphale barks out a laugh a laugh and shakes his head.

"No, no, much different fellow, this would be much more recent… The last... fifteen years or so?" Excluding the last eleven, of course. He thinks it, but he doesn't say it.

Madame Tracy nods and lifts her finger. 

"Wait here a tick, let me check our records."

It takes a few moments for her to return - a few long moments in which Aziraphale allows himself to become reacquainted with the inner workings of this shop. He has such fond memories of it - he had even helped Madame Tracy run it on numerous occasions, his robust knowledge of books and antiquity coming in rather handy with her cateloging and pricing of the rarer items she acquired. This place is so familiar, so comforting to him, and yet…

And yet he still wishes he were back home at the cottage, back in his study, typing on a typewriter, or reading one of Crowley's novels. Aziraphale sighs just as Madame Tracy returns.

"So sorry, love, but I can't say I've got a single thing by him."

Aziraphake plasters on a grin, tries to hide his disappointment.

"Quite alright - I hadn't expected you to have anything…" He pauses, half-debating whether he even wants to ask the question in his head. With resolve, Aziraphale licks his lips, sucks in a breath, and continues, "But in that case… Would you happen to have any books on…ghosts?"

Aziraphale ignores the pointed look Madame Tracy shoots him, avoiding her eyes and taking a long gulp of too-hot tea.

::

Aziraphale returns to the cottage later that day with a few groceries and a small satchell of books he’d gotten from Madame Tracy’s shop. He tries not to think about the books, though; he feels more than a little mad having bought them at all. His hands and arms full, Aziraphale struggles with the key to front door, but manages to fumble it in the tumbler and kick it open. It opens wide, revealing the cottage interior - bathed in shadow and faded slivers of light as the late afternoon sun begins to give way to the evening hours. Trepidation lingers in Aziraphale’s throat as he stares into the shadowed stillness of the home. But he sucks in a breath and forces himself inside.

Past the threshold, every inkling of anxiety he’d had just a split second before, dissipates in an instant. Beyond the doorway, he is all but overwhelmed by an all-encompassing sensation he cannot fully describe. It’s not new , this feeling of being here, but it is far stronger now than it has been before. As he basks in it, the front door still open behind him, the only thing he can think to describe it is… that it feels like fondness . Like affection. Like being welcomed home. Like the house missed him in his absence. He knows that’s silly, but the feeling doesn’t go away.

“Oh…” Aziraphale sighs with content, eyes traversing the expanse of the cottage like he's seeing it for the first time. He sets his bags down on the floor and shrugs out of his overcoat, hanging it on the hooks by the door. He allows himself another second to stand there, allows himself another second to feel , before he shakes his head and gathers his bags back up. 

“I’m home,” he tells the house as he makes his way down the hall to the kitchen. He makes sure he speaks loud enough for the sing-song in his voice to carry, the sound of him resonating throughout the house, as though he were calling out to a lover.

It’s strange - because in a way, he feels that’s exactly what he’s doing.

As Aziraphale enters the kitchen, his pace slows and he cranes his head upwards. Above him, the floorboards have begun to creak and groan - steady, rhythmic, the way they do when walked upon. He furrows his brow - standing still in his kitchen with arms full of paper grocery bags - and listens as the creaking moves about. It migrates out of the study above him, down the short hall, and stops at what Aziraphale assumes are the stairs.

He finds this moment rather interesting, because in all honesty, he should feel afraid. He knows he should feel afraid - this is a rational thing to find strange and frightening. He should be as afraid now as he was those first few nights he’d spent in this cottage. But he feels nothing  even close to fear. Not a shred of anxiety, even in the face of something his brain cannot begin to rationalize. And in place of the fear, a peculiar sense of calm settles over his shoulders. He drops his gaze away from the ceiling and allows a small, lazy grin to creep onto his face. The creaking of the boards continues, accompanied now with soft, minute thumps from the vicinity of the stairs. Aziraphale walks over to the counter and deposits the grocery bags with a low grunt.

“I was gone for a while today, I know. My apologies.”

He has no idea who he’s saying this for. For an outsider, looking in, he’s just some crazy man, talking to his house while he unpacks and stows away his groceries.

For Aziraphale, looking from the inside, it still seems like a very odd thing to do, and yet he can’t bring himself to question it, or to even be bothered by it. He actively chooses not to question why he’s conversing with his empty house, or why he isn’t at least a little perturbed by the sounds of creaking footsteps echoing through the place. These are worries for another day, worries he can't bring himself to fret over right now. The house doesn’t feel (has never felt) particularly empty - so why should he treat it as though it were?

As he continues to set out his groceries, Aziraphale notes that the room around him grows a trifle colder. For a brief, embarrassing instant, dread seeps into his stomach, the fear he knows he’s supposed to be feeling invading his gut like a spear. But he doesn’t want it there. So he shakes his head, wills the feeling away, and focuses on the task at hand. The creaking of the floorboards and the soft, plodding thumping has stopped completely now. This is a fact that Aziraphale acknowledges, but that he also makes sure to shove back into the recesses of his mind, where he doesn’t have to deal with whatever the sudden quiet and the chill in the air around him might mean.

Best not to think too hard about it -  Aziraphale figures that’s a quick and easy way to go a little bit mad (assuming he hasn’t already).

The ingredients he plans to use for dinner, he leaves out on the counter. He gathers up the satchell with his new books in it and heads out of the kitchen, migrating to the stairs.

The cottage, it would seem, feels cool no matter where he goes now. The chill follows his steps, trailing behind him like an aura. He can't say that he minds it too much.

Aziraphale flits up the stairs and into the study. The door is wide open, inviting, expecting him. It’s a bit dark in the room, Aziraphale notes, but not overly so. The evening sun is still fighting the good fight, linger light flickering through the tree leaves and across the horizon, just so it can filter through the windowpane. There’s enough light that Aziraphale can see , but it’s all a bit muted.

He can’t help but note, however, that, perhaps for the first time since he moved in, he doesn't feel a dire need to flick on a lightswitch in the presence of the growing shadow.

Aziraphale migrates towards the bookshelves on the far wall. There is space on the one above the row of Crowley’s books for today’s purchases (He bought three books from Madame Tracy - two on how to detect ghosts, and one on what to do if you do detect a ghost… Aziraphale doubts very much that he’ll actually bother to read them. For one thing, he has a distinct feeling that the books will focus mainly on how to banish spirits, which is not an idea he is particularly fond of at this point. And secondly, he already feels a little bit daft about this whole thing - actually sitting down to read a set of books about What to Expect When Your House Has the Unexpected would probably just make him feel more daft.)

Aziraphale laughs at himself and moves to dig them out of the satchell hanging on his left shoulder. But as he turns, his eyes catch sight of the typewriter. His motions pause immediately and the books tumble from his hands, clamoring onto the wooden floor. But he can’t bring himself to care about any of that because… He keeps his gaze laser-focused on the typewriter and steps closer to it, just to be sure that…

Yes…

There’s a new line of text, typed shoddily just beneath his own.

HI. I LIKE YOUR BOOKS. I'M LISTENING.

 

YO U  WO ULD BE THE   FI RSTT.

“Oh god,” Aziraphale whimpers, hand slapping over his mouth. Hot, unsteady breaths hiss past his nostrils as his chest begins to heave beneath the enormity of this moment.

The study has grown as cold as a tomb.

Aziraphale shivers and collapses his wavering body down into the desk chair, eyes never parting with the words on the page.

“Okay…” He says to himself, “Okay, okay, okay. You... You wanna talk... W-We can talk.”

All that anxiety he had previously forgotten comes rushing back in like a blitz. It invades his space, bears down on him, circles around him like a vulture on a rotting corpse.

No... This is far too much.

Should he type something? His shaking, unstable fingers hover over the keys but he doesn’t touch them. Would something happen if he did touch the keys? What even could happen? He has no idea, but he hadn’t exactly expected any of this to begin with. Slowly, methodically, Aziraphale withdraws, pulls his hands back into his body, and clasps them tightly in his lap.

He can’t do this.

Chilly rooms, stains on the floor, oh heaven, even the noises: Aziraphale can handle those (apparently) but this… This is far too immense. This is so much larger than he is and he feels like a child staring Death in the face for the very first time.

Without thinking, one hand drifts of its own accord into his pants pocket and pries the polaroid of Crowley out. Aziraphale forces his eyes to leave the typewriter and to focus instead of Crowley’s photograph. He leans back a little more deeply into the desk chair, and keeps his gaze on Crowley’s laughing face.

He shakes his head.

“I c-can’t…. I can’t do this…” he whispers, his voice filled with far more remorse and guilt than he’d expected, “Not yet…”

And with that, he stands, shoves the photograph back into his pocket, and hurries out of the study and back downstairs to the kitchen.

He has to make dinner.

::

The house gets warmer that evening - gradual and slow, the cold depleting from the air as though it hadn’t even been there in the first place. The floorboards stay quiet, and, as Aziraphale is making dinner, he could swear that the stain on the kitchen floor has shrunk a little bit.

Aziraphale sighs, trying his damnedest not to be disappointed. There is nothing to be disappointed about in the first place, he tells himself (and like any proper English gentleman, denial suits him quite well). But despite his self-dismissal, he still can’t stop himself from murmuring a sheepish apology into the silence of the house.

“I’m sorry, love…”

::

Aziraphale tells himself, with a good bit of certainty, that he is not going to read any of The Place Beyond the Pit tonight. He figures that perhaps an evening of… separation… from the situation is what he needs. And so he resigns himself to one night without Crowley’s words swirling around in his head.

But really, it’s all a bit nonsensical (he finds himself using that word, and all its relevant synonyms, a lot more often now than not). Separation from what, exactly? From Crowley? How absurd a thought to have. Once again, Aziraphale forces himself to remember that Crowley is simply a name on a bookshelf, a narrator in a book. He is a dead man . There isn’t much more ‘separation’ to be had between two people than that. To think otherwise is ludicrous (and whatever is going on with typewriter, well, that’s a conundrum that Aziraphale will just ignore for now). If he were to tell anyone the sorts of things that he has thought lately, the things that he has felt - the house, the books, the blasted typewriter, Crowley, Crowley, Crowley - he’d probably be carted straight off to St. George’s.

To think of Crowley in terms of being someone that he knows, or someone that he dreams of, speaks to, longs for… well… it does Aziraphale no good at all. Those sorts of thoughts simply will not do. And so he vows to simply not think of Crowley at all tonight. He won’t look at his photograph (which, yes, Aziraphale hates to admit, is still housed safely in his pocket), and he certainly will not read Crowley’s book.

::

He reads Crowley’s book anyway.He also stuffs his hand into his pocket and cradles the photograph in his palm once every few minutes. Aziraphale doesn’t really know why, either.

He falls asleep with the bedside lamp still on and Crowley’s book, half-open, strewn across his chest.

::

Aziraphale wakes up some hours later, startling halfway into consciousness at the sound of a switch clicking. He blinks blearily and takes in the room - it is bathed in midnight darkness. He drags a slow hand down across his face, as though he might be able to scrub the sleepiness from his body. He drops the hand onto his chest, feeling idly Crowley’s book. He knows he fell asleep with it last night, but when he touches his chest, there is no book to be found. He groans and rolls over onto his side, fumbling around the bed blindly in the dark, reaching down over the side to pat the floor for it, too, but he’s met with nothing.

With a huff, Aziraphale rights himself back into bed, and his eyes fall to the nightstand. He peers at it, squinting, trying to focus on its shapes in the darkness. There, perched carefully and neatly atop Crowley’s other book, is The Place Beyond the Pit .

Aziraphale’s brow tightens. He ponders for a brief moment, wondering if perhaps he had woken up just enough in his sleep to stow the book safely on the nightstand, as well as flip the lamp off. Perhaps he just doesn’t remember doing it; certainly wouldn’t be the first time he’d done something like that in his sleep. And yet… the thought stops short. It doesn’t feel right.

He realizes why as the faint sound of shuffling steps catches his attention.

Aziraphale’s breath catches in his throat and his eyes yank away from the nightstand to stare at the wall. With slow, forced movements, he turns his head to look at the open bedroom door, peering through the darkness for the source of the noise.

Something stutters in his chest and his eyes widen, because there, in the empty place where he had expected to see only darkness, there is something else entirely. There, in the doorway - faint, so very faint, a murky mixture of shadow and light - stands a lithe, lanky male figure. The shape of him is so bleary in this darkness, lost and flickering in the heavy shroud of sleep that still hangs above Aziraphale’s head, but he is there nonetheless. Undoubtedly so, he is there.

Aziraphale stares at the figure, chest tight, eyes intent. He is desperate to take in his features, to absorb all his details, but he cannot. It’s like looking at someone through a hazed-over window, riddled with fog - unclear, fuzzy, the fine points - the minutiae - all blurry.

What Aziraphale doesn’t miss, however (couldn’t possibly miss) is the faint hint of fire-red hair atop this figure’s head.

His face softens at the color. A weight lifts from his shoulders and Aziraphale allows his muscles to relax, lets his breathing return to normal, and lets his eyelids grow a little heavy.

Perhaps this is all a dream - it certainly has all the hallmarks of one. Hazy, unfocused, an image just out of reach, sleep encompassing him like a heavy blanket might cradle a child. And yet, something inside him - something very sure of itself - tells him that he is most certainly awake. That he is most certainly looking at this figure, that is most certainly standing in the doorway of his bedroom. This is no dream. Nor is it his imagination.

Perhaps that should frighten him, much as the typewriter’s new message earlier had frightened him, and yet he cannot bring himself to be afraid now. He keeps his eyes settled comfortably on the now-motionless figure in his doorway; he refuses to name this shape, but he knows, deep down, exactly who it resembles. Aziraphale sighs at the thought and settles back into his comforters and pillows, plush and comforting around him in the darkness. He doesn’t want to fall asleep yet - he wants to stare for just another moment longer, wants to watch this creature for just another second - but sleep is thick in his eyes and he cannot stave it off.

“Thank you, my dear…” He murmurs to the room as his eyes slip closed, sleep reclaiming him with ease. Thank you for the lamp, for the book. Thank you for you.

And somewhere - somewhere that sounds so very far away from him, like an echo reverberating across a distant valley - a voice whispers back in the darkness:

“S’no trouble.”

::