Aziraphale, upon entering the study, doesn’t bother to turn the overhead light on. The hallway lights are all on still, illuminating the room in a partial glow, but it feels too garish to turn on the blinding white light within the study. So he lets the room stay dim; he can see well enough. With a low breath, Aziraphale forces himself to walk to the desk. He pulls out the chair and settles down into it. He keeps his back straight, more rigid than he would like it to be, but he cannot seem to relax. His left hand slips easily into his pocket and feels for Crowley’s photograph - he looks for it the same way a child might search for their favorite stuffed animal. It is a comfort, at this point, something that might soothe his anxieties.
But he finds his pocket empty.
He must have forgotten the photo downstairs on the windowsill again. He’d placed it there before doing the dishes and with all the commotion that followed, he must not have grabbed it. Aziraphale clenches his fist in his empty pocket and pulls his hand back out.
Resignation pooling in his chest, Aziraphale allows himself, for the first time since he sat down, to actually look at the typewriter.
There is new text there now. He’d all but expected there might be.
Typed just below his previous message of I'M HERE. TALK TO ME., there is a new message in haphazard typeface.
WIL L YO U LIS TEN?
Aziraphale’s breath heaves from his breast as he adjusts his posture a little in his chair. He realizes, rather guiltily, that Crowley's message is not simply a question, but rather, it is giving him a choice. It is giving him an out. Crowley isn't asking if Aziraphale will be able to physically hear him; he's asking if Aziraphale will listen . Crowley’s presence has probably been 'heard' by plenty of others that came before Aziraphale - a bump in the night here, or a shuffle of feet there. But has he ever been heard ? Has anyone ever truly heard him in the eleven long years he has haunted this house? Aziraphale already knows the answer to that question.
How lonely those years must have been.
And yet, Crowley has still given Aziraphale a chance to say no. He has given him a chance to say that no, he will not listen; he’s given him a chance to leave this room and wash his hands of all of this. Aziraphale certainly could do that - perhaps it would be easier. But he doesn't want to. He wants to to listen. He wants Crowley to be heard . His eyes slip closed and he tilts his head a little, allowing himself to feel the room around him. Aziraphale wants to hear him; he wants to listen, and he wants all of the consequences that might entail.
“Of course, darling…” Aziraphale whispers into the study, as though the answer were obvious. Perhaps it is. His voice is soft but by the way the room grows cooler, he is sure Crowley has heard him. “Of course I’ll listen.”
The temperature in the room shoots down, all the ambient human warmth wrenched out of the air. The change is so dramatic, Aziraphale gasps, air leaving his lungs with the cold. He shudders - full body, from his head to the tips of his toes - at the onslaught. Even in the comfort of his cardigan, he is frigid. And there is an unmistakable weight to this room now, an immensity Aziraphale cannot fathom, and cannot name, so he bears it with whatever inner strength he can manage.
It’s Crowley. He knows it is.
He shivers at the thought, body trembling beyond his control beneath the sudden understanding that Crowley might actually be here . That he might have chosen to share this space, this room with him.
Aziraphale can feel him - he is nearby now, close enough to touch if Aziraphale were so determined to do so. The air to Aziraphale's right is as cold as a void, but not nearly as empty. With trembling, unsteady motions, he unwinds his arms from around his chilled body and extends them out to the desk. He presses them atop the desk, palm-down, splayed out, flat against the wood, resting on either side of the typewriter. He is quivering still and he cannot seem to stop it.
Why won't he stop shaking? God, just stop shaking .
Against whatever instincts and fears are broiling inside of him, Aziraphale knows he must be calm. And so, with great effort, he forces his body to relax, to accept what has happened to the room around him, to accept what (who) is lingering in the space beside him. He lets his eyes grow unfocused, settling his gaze somewhere ahead of him, out the window, across the pond outside.
Something - a breath - sighs to his right. The responsive gasp that hisses through Aziraphale’s teeth is completely involuntary, and he's unable to catch it before it exposes him. Unable to stop his body’s baser instincts, Aziraphale cannot deny that, in this moment, he is afraid.
He wants to look, by god , he needs to look. But he can’t. He won’t. Aziraphale knows he shouldn’t. Knows that this moment might be fleeting, knows that whatever connection is building between them in this room, it will only be maintained by his stillness.
He wants to look.
He doesn’t look at all.
“I… I know you’re there,” Aziraphale whimpers to the room. His voice is far shakier than he’d have liked, his pitch barely a squeak. He doesn’t turn his head, doesn’t search for Crowley, keeps his eyes trained on the view outside the window. “I’m here… I’m listening…”
The space beside him seems to move, but he cannot distinguish anything from just the corner of his eye.
And icy chill slithers across his cheek.
“Aziraphale…” a voice whispers to him. It’s so close, so intimate - if Aziraphale focuses, he swears he could almost feel the touch of lips grazing the shell of his ear. He wants to gasp, he wants to scream, he wants to run.
He wants to stay .
He wants to lean into this touch. He wants this feeling all around him, cradling him, speaking to him. Fear, doubt, desire, compassion - they coil inside him like a pair of writhing snakes, battling each other in the recesses of his body for dominance, entwining themselves with each other until they are indistinguishable.
Aziraphale shivers as the icy touch lingers by his ear and cheek. He tries, by god does he try, to quell the fearful moan that wobbles past his lips, but he cannot stop it.
He has to listen.
“I’m- I’m here, Crowley. Talk to me…”
Crowley - this presence in the room - does nothing, says nothing.
Aziraphale tries his best to quell the shiver in his voice as he speaks again.
“God, my dear boy… You haven’t been heard in so many years, have you?” Aziraphale is unstable in this void, sitting on the edge of the precipice, waiting to tumble forward and into the abyss. His words are so unstable, but he bears them nonetheless, forces them past his teeth no matter how his brain tries to stop them. “But I will hear you… I’ll hear you if you just talk to me…”
The chill brushes the shell of his ear again. They’re close now, so very close, and a voice finally speaks - whispering ghostly words straight into Aziraphale’s ear.
“He... held... me... under...”
Aziraphale’s eyes widen as the sound slithers into his ear. A soft, echoing secret, the sort of far away sounds only a dead man can speak. He tells Aziraphale things only a dead man (or a mad man) could know.
In an instant, whatever fear, whatever anxiety Aziraphale had felt a moment before, dissipates. It is gone in a flash, replaced instead by… he isn’t sure what. Reception? Love? A desire to listen? Crowley is speaking to him, and Aziraphale will listen. Aziraphale swallows the lump in his throat and asks the question he is sure he knows the answer to already.
Crowley’s voice is a faraway murmur but it creeps with painful precision into Aziraphale’s head. And he tells Aziraphale - in brutal, agonizing detail - the truth about his death.
The truth of that night those long eleven years ago.
He sighs this harrowing word into Aziraphale’s ear as though it were poison on his lips - too terrible to hold inside, too painful to pawn upon another. But Aziraphale takes the word in. It is agony, but he lets this slither into his body where he can house them. He clings to it there, holds onto it, wraps himself around it as though he might somehow be able to change it or fix it.
Aziraphale’s hands press harder into the desk - he feels as though it might bend beneath him. His eyes sting, threatening tears, and his breath is unsteady, but he stays as silent as he can, listening to each and every syllable that Crowley will give him.
Crowley tells him of the chill in the air that night, tells him of the argument that transpired. He tells him in horrid detail how frigid the water was: the kind of cold that wraps itself around you and strangles the air straight from your lungs. He tells Aziraphale how he had fought and clawed for life, fingernails scraping - breaking - skin, and how strong hands, the hands of his lover, had forced him and held him just below the water’s surface.
Aziraphale sputters. He isn’t out there in the pond, and yet he is . His mind transports. He is back in the water and he sees everything; feels everything; experiences everything.
It was December and the frost hung in the air. The water - that cold, cold water, the kind of water that freezes you straight down to your core - was turbulent. Flurries of motion and splashing, just like he’d seen out the kitchen window not an hour ago. Aziraphale curls his fingers, his nails digging in and scraping the surface of the desk like Crowley’s must have dug into Gabriel’s skin.
In this moment, Aziraphale lives in Crowley’s struggle, and takes his pain unto himself. He is surrounded by water, he is wrapped in cold. He can see a man in a light grey shirt wrestling him down, down into the icy, black murk of death.
This is his truth.
This is Crowley’s end.
This is how he rots.
Crowley’s screams and all his gurgles, disgusting and pained, they echo in his ears. The sight of his bloodshot of his eyes as he’d struggled for air, struggled against the hands around his neck, is a sickly image in his brain. Crowley’s pleas for mercy, his desire to live, his prayer that he might have one more day to walk this earth. Just one more day. They are all around him.
“I was afraid,” Crowley tells him and Aziraphale shakes his head. Who wouldn’t be?
Aziraphale’s stomach churns. He wants, so very much, to reach over into the space beside him, to find the space that Crowley seems to occupy and crawl inside it. He longs to give comfort that deep down he knows he cannot provide.
This is an endless memory, a record that skips and always somehow loops back to the beginning to replay over and over again.
Crowley spills these words into his ear, because he longs, if only for a moment, to be free of his death.
Aziraphale wants to give him freedom. In this moment, Crowley’s pain is his own. It worms his way into the deepest cavities of his mind, his body, his soul. Every moment of suffering, every time Gabriel had mocked him, had harmed him, had laid a vile hand on him. Every flash of fear - Aziraphale feels it. He feels Crowley’s flailing limbs, the growing tightness in his chest as he claws for air, the ache of his muscles as fights - so very valiantly - against Gabriel’s assaulting hands.
Water is in his lungs. Burning in his nose.
The violence of the water envelopes him.
Tears stream down Aziraphale’s cheeks. The noise that spills from his mouth is but a sputter, a mere whimper. Graceless, in pain, as it tumbles off his lips.
Crowley rends him, piece by piece, with every word he whispers until the only thing Aziraphale can think , or see , or feel , or know is Crowley.
Crowley. Crowley. Crowley.
My god, in this moment, Aziraphale has never longed for Crowley’s laugh more. He has never ached so deeply to know what his happiness and joy might sound like. It’s what he deserves - to be happy, to laugh so deeply he might forget all the horrid things that have befallen him.
But this pain - awful and immense as it is - is important. And Aziraphale knows it.
“He killed me, ” Crowley tells him. “ And I’m alone.”
Aziraphale shakes his head - the first movement he has allowed himself since Crowley’s voice had begun in his ear.
“You are not alone…” He insists before he can stop himself. "I'm here..."
Crowley’s words have been so repressed, so hidden away for all these years. They have been locked away for so long, little things that Crowley has harbored each and every moment of the long, arduous years since his death. This is a truth that has been bubbling just beneath the surface, desperate to come up, to come out of the water, following Crowley’s figure like the damp with every withered, circular step he had taken.
Back and forth across the cottage floors, the grief dripping from him like the pond water in his clothes.
Crowley needed these words. He needed to speak. To be heard.
And Aziraphale hears him. He hears him and he aches. He shakes and he weeps and listens .
When Crowley’s voice finally quiets, Aziraphale lets out a stuttered, tearful huff, head drooping a little. He presses his palms harder and flatter into the desk and sniffles. He is thick-feeling, heavy, too full of emotion, the sorts of emotions carried only on the backs of quivered sobs.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale whimpers, “I’m-I'm so sorry…”
A pause. A breath - one that may or may not have come from Aziraphale. He turns his head a little, angling into the icy presence at his side. It is frigid against him, but it burns like a flame. He is captivated by it. He leans into this touch like he is searching for lips, for anything.
“Close your eyes ,” Crowley’s voice hums into his ear. And Aziraphale does, his body obeying before his brain can even process the request. Another tear slips past his eyelids as they close, streaming hot and angry down his cheek. He tries - by god does he try - to stop the tremble in his lip, to stop the quiver of his breath, to stop the upset and pain that is boiling beneath his ribcage. But the emotion pours out of him no matter how he protests it.
Something cold but soft embraces his left cheek - so icy and frigid it all but takes the air out of him. Aziraphale hisses a gasp through his teeth, but he doesn’t pull away. The chill cups his face like a lover’s palm might. Against his other cheek, something cold, but still so tender, presses against his skin. Soft, precise, burning with chill but delicate nonetheless. A kiss.
“Thank you . ”
Aziraphale opens his eyes, but the moment he does, the sensation is gone. The cold has left the room, the weight of Crowley’s presence erased from the space as if it had never been there in the first place. He glances around the room with urgency, but sees nothing but the evening shadows.
“Crowley?” He calls out, loud enough that the house might hear him speak. “Crowley…. Don’t go…”
But neither the house, nor Crowley, answer him.
Aziraphale never makes it to bed that night. Instead, he stays at the desk and sobs into his hands, crying until his body forces sleep upon him.
He calls Anathema in the morning, before the office opens, and leaves her a brief message. He doesn’t know why he tells her anything, aside from the feeling he has that she deserves to know. On her answering machine, he imparts three words:
“H-he was murdered.”
He hangs up right after, if only because he cannot bear to explain the things that were told him the night before.
Anathema calls him for most of the day, leaving voice messages and sending him texts. He responds to none of them. He doesn’t know how to have the conversation he knows she wants to have - he doesn’t know how to explain himself. And so he sits, alone in his cottage, beneath the weight of what has happened here.
Aziraphale spends the rest of the day wandering around the house like a phantom. He moves without purpose, locked in a daze, moving in and out of each of the rooms, expecting nothing, expecting something .
He waits for Crowley. He wants to hear him again. To hear his footsteps shuffling down the hall, to hear his voice lilting in his ear. He would even take the quiet dripping of water on his floors.
But the house is silent as a tomb, and just as empty.
Aziraphale waits for him. And he waits.
And he waits.
Aziraphale waits for two weeks.
Two whole weeks of silence. Two weeks of stillness. Two weeks without one single inkling of Crowley’s presence. Fourteen awful days, and Aziraphale is alone.
The cottage, devoid of Crowley, is no place Aziraphale calls home. It is a place he lives, but it is a shell for his person and little more.
Aziraphale hates it.
After seventeen days, Aziraphale tries typing on the typewriter again.
I’M HERE STILL.
After nineteen days, he tries again.
I MISS YOU.
But Crowley doesn’t reply.
Aziraphale tries to busy himself with books. At first, he tries to continue reading Crowley’s work - attempting to pick up where he left off in The Place Beyond the Pit , but he finds it far too hollow this time around. Far too painful to read.
He tries a different one, too, but Crowley’s voice in his head is but a distant memory. The shape and weight of his presence is lacking and he finds himself despondent after just a few sentences, unable to focus on the words for the grief.
That’s what this is, isn’t it? Grief? Mourning?
He’d never known Crowley when he was alive, was never the one to grieve him after his death. (Aziraphale wonders if anyone did - surely they must have. He hopes at least one person did.) But despite this, Aziraphale knows Crowley now - came to know him here, in this house. He knows Crowley as one knows a part of one’s heart - intangible and ever-throbbing, an ineffable piece of the life he has lived.
And in his absence, Aziraphale is bereft.
In his absence, Aziraphale grieves.
He keeps Crowley’s photograph in his pocket.
It’s the only piece of him he has left.
Aziraphale dreams of Crowley every single night. He wakes up in tears more often than not.
After three weeks, Aziraphale has all but given up.
Standing in the kitchen, Aziraphale watches through the window as the twilight sun begins to slip away from view. The pond out back shimmers with calm in the fading light, shadows creeping in to replace the bright. Aziraphale licks his lips and exhales a long, low breath. He should start preparing for dinner, but for once, he finds he isn’t hungry.
There’s a lovely cheesecake in the refrigerator that he’d gotten from the market last week. He’d forced himself out of the house because that’s what one must do when one is grieving.
It hadn’t helped. And he hasn’t even touched the treat since he bought it. Even now, he doesn’t want it. He'll have to throw it away soon, he imagines.
Aziraphale pulls Crowley’s photograph from his pocket and sets it upright on the kitchen windowsill. He stares at it for a moment before he deflates. He hunches over a bit and braces himself against the sink, supported only by tense arms.
Glancing to the floor, he sees the water stain in front of the stove. It is larger now than when he’d first seen it, but he knows that isn’t Crowley’s doing. It is a remnant of when he had run to the pond, had sat on this floor in his grief, and let the water pool around him, ruining the floor as it did. Just looking at it hurts.
Aziraphale lifts his head to stare at Crowley’s photo.
“I miss you, you know?” he tells the picture. He intends for it to sound honest, frank, perhaps even a little annoyed. But it is none of those things. His voice, whether he likes it or not, is raw with upset, tinged with ache.
Aziraphale sighs a shaky breath and tries to ignore the growing lump at the back of his throat, threatening to choke him.
“I miss you so very fiercely… It’s so quiet now. Like you aren’t even here…”
Aziraphale glances around the empty kitchen in despair.
“Maybe you aren’t anymore…”
He sucks in a breath, fills his chest, tries to calm himself, but he can’t. Turning around, Aziraphale presses his back to the sink and slides to the floor in a heap. He had wanted to give Crowley freedom, and perhaps he had done just that.
“You know, I… If I gave you some kind of… rest… or peace… then I want you to know that-that I’m happy . Truly. Because you deserve it. You deserve to be free of the burden you carried all these years. But I,” Aziraphale has to stop. He hangs his head, tears suddenly springing from his eyes and trickling down his cheeks, “But I miss you so very much… And I don’t... ” Aziraphale’s breath hitches, “I don’t want you to go.”
He lifts his head again, staring up at the ceiling. The study is just through there, through those boards above him.
“Please, Crowley… Don’t leave me here alone…”
After three weeks and one day, Aziraphale finally returns Anathema’s calls.
She has questions, because of course she does. Crowley was murdered? What happened? By whom? And how does Aziraphale even know ?
Aziraphale has no answers for her; no answers that would ever make sense. She doesn’t understand (he hadn’t expected her to), but she senses his despair nonetheless, and offers him whatever support she can muster.
“I can try to… find where he’s buried,” She proposes, “If that would help?”
Aziraphale pauses and glances around the empty study, at the blank page on the typewriter in front of him.
“Yes…” He tells her, “Yes, I’d… I’d really like that, my dear.”
Crowley is tucked away in a little cemetery just outside of town; Anathema takes Aziraphale there on a brisk mid-December afternoon. The sun is out - uncharacteristic for this time of year - and the air is electric and clear. The funds from Crowley’s estate had been enough to secure a plot and a meager gravestone atop it, but little else. The marker has clearly withered with age and lack of care - it is cracked and untended, grass and vine overgrowing its edges.
Aziraphale exhales and crouches down in front of it. He brushes away some of the foliage and squints at the faded, worn-down lettering.
Anthony J. Crowley
There’s no epitaph, no words of fondness, no memory or tribute to who he was; Aziraphale aches in its absence. Crowley was more than just a name and a death date, and the world should have known it. But reality is not always so kind. No one has come to this grave to grieve, not before Aziraphale and Anathema, at least.
No one has cared to tend to this plot.
Aziraphale’s eyes begin to sting, but he blinks the tears away.
He supposes it doesn’t matter.
He traces his fingers over the letters.
Crowley is not here. There might be a body beneath the soil here - or what is left of one - but Crowley is not, nor has he ever been, here. This is a slab; a piece of stone with a name on it, overgrown and overcome by nature. This is not him .
As if sensing his thoughts, Anathema begins to speak from behind him.
“Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not there; I do not sleep.”
Aziraphale doesn’t look at her, but he smiles and chuckles as he touches Crowley’s name again.
“Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there; I did not die,” Aziraphale finishes.
Anathema’s hand touches his shoulder and gives him a gentle, reassuring squeeze. Aziraphale wipes his eyes and stands. He straightens his pants, sniffling a bit, erasing the remainder of sadness that had built behind his eyes.
“Perhaps, dear,” He starts, “we could see about releasing Crowley’s books to the public.”
“Publishing them?” She asks.
“I have heard that there are ways to release books online, free of charge… I’m not sure what all would need to be done regarding rights but…”
Anathema nods her understanding and rubs Aziraphale’s bicep encouragingly.
“I just think that,” Aziraphale starts again, “perhaps others should see them.”
“You know what… I’ll see what I can find out.”
Aziraphale smiles, grateful that she doesn’t even question his wish.
When Anathema drops Aziraphale back off at the cottage, she seems more than a little hesitant to leave. She gets out of the driver’s side and stares at Aziraphale over the top of her car. He waves to her, but she remains, watching him closely as he heads up the porch.
His key is in the lock when she finally speaks.
“You know,” She calls out to him, “I’ve shown this cottage to a lot of people over the years. Even had a few who chose to rent it. But… I’ve never had anyone that seemed to belong here the way you do. You remember I told you that this place had an aura that was just so… you ?”
“Well it still does, Aziraphale. That hasn’t changed. I look at this house, with its history, its tragedy, with all of its intricacies, and I still see you in it. Like this is where you're meant to be.”
Aziraphale stares at her but says nothing.
“Maybe I’m just a weird, superstitious girl like my mother, but I believe that sometimes the places we live, the areas we come to inhabit, they speak to us. They take us into themselves, and talk to us in a ways that they don’t talk to anyone else. And I think that’s what makes a place a home - that connection. If this house speaks to you, don’t ever let it go.”
And with that, she drops back into the driver’s seat and pulls away from the cottage. Aziraphale watches her leave, thinking - rather morosely - to himself:
If only it still spoke .
Aziraphale steps past the threshold of the cottage and takes it in.
The house is far too empty now. Empty, and cold. Not the kind of cold that had hovered around Crowley’s figure, but rather the sort of cold that might linger in a hollow cave. Isolated, devoid of life. A muted sort of cold that sneaks into your body and takes up residence there without your permission.
The cottage is just barely illuminated by the late afternoon December sun, and soft shadows drape across its interior like a fine layer of dust. Aziraphale stands in the foyer and takes it in - it hardly even feels like his home anymore. With a low breath, he shrugs out of overcoat and hangs it on the hook, making sure to fish Crowley’s photograph out of the pocket and safely deposit it into his trouser pocket instead. He lets his eyes drift downwards to the stain on the entryway floor. It’s still there, and a small bubbling of relief wells in Aziraphale’s chest at that fact. He toes it gently and shakes his head.
He could go to the kitchen and fix himself something to eat, or perhaps brew up a quick mug of tea - he hasn’t eaten anything all day, so it would probably be best to get a little something on his stomach. But he’s not hungry; he has no desire for even the sweetest of morsels that are tucked away in his refrigerator. Even a lovingly steeped cup of tea won’t be enough to soothe the empty chill within his bones.
No, what he needs now is a good, warm shower. Maybe after that he’ll nibble or sip, but not now. (Truth be told, he knows though that he probably won’t bother to eat even after he showers. And If he sips on anything, it’ll likely be out of a tumbler of strong whiskey.)
Aziraphale ascends the stairs with heavy footsteps, loud and noticeable throughout the cottage. He doesn’t care - it’s not like anyone’s there to hear it.
When he reaches the top, he pauses and turns his gaze towards the study to his left. The door is open - as it has been for the last three weeks, he’d left it that way - but Aziraphale knows it’s empty. He supposes he could go check the typewriter. Just last night he’d gotten drunk and typed the words CO ME HOME on it before he could think to stop himself. But he knows there will be nothing new typed on the page, so why bother to check. With a huff, he turns the opposite direction and heads into his bedroom.
The shower doesn’t help at all.
He keeps the bathroom door closed as it runs, and doesn’t turn on the overhead vent. He does so if only because he hopes the steam will build up and that that heat might drive away some of the meaningless desolation in the house.
Aziraphale longs for the icy cold of Crowley’s presence - not this vacant algidity.
When he exits the shower, the steam has condensed in a thick layer across his bathroom mirror. Wrapped in his towel, Aziraphale scans it with furrowed brow, desperate for anything , even the tiniest inkling that it has been disturbed by someone other than himself. But there’s nothing there. No words, no lines, no nothing.
Aziraphale sighs, eyes hardening with pain. Without thinking, he brings his finger to the mirror and scrawls out an unhappy message of his own.
He starts to step away, determined to leave his anger dripping on the glass, but something stops him. With a frustrated huff, Aziraphale goes back to the mirror and smears his hand across the word, erasing it.
He hadn’t meant it anyway.
Dressed in his comfiest pyjamas, Aziraphale tells himself he must go eat something. He even manages to drag himself to the kitchen, to at least pretend he might. But he doesn’t forage for a single thing. Instead, he digs the whiskey out of the cabinet, and fills a glass (a bit too full), and retires upstairs. It’s only just now getting dark, but he’s tired, and lonely, and frankly he doesn’t much feel like being awake right now.
In bed, half his whiskey gone, Aziraphale stares up at the ceiling. On his nightstand is Crowley’s picture, along with Crowley’s book that he hasn’t touched for three entire weeks. He thinks back to Crowley’s gravestone, to its weathered, haggard surface. Crowley was not there, no, of course not, but Crowley certainly isn’t here either, and that hurts more than Aziraphale would like to admit. He will not stand at Crowley’s grave and weep, but perhaps he might do so in the privacy of his own home.
A tear slips out of the corner of his eye and careens down his temple. Aziraphale wipes it away with urgency.
This won’t do.
He can’t keep on like this.
But he doesn’t know how to stop.
Sucking in a shaking breath, Aziraphale speaks to the vacant room.
“Darling, it’s the silliest thing… But I think. I think I might love you. And now you’re gone and I don’t know what to do.”
Aziraphale sits up a little, wipes the remaining tears from his eyes, and reaches out to grab his glass of whiskey. He pauses as he sees Crowley’s photograph. After gulping down the remainder of his alcohol, Aziraphale picks up the polaroid and clutches it to his chest. Reclining back in bed, he lets his eyes slip closed.
“Is a memory all I’m supposed to have of you?”
A memory is not enough.
Aziraphale is suddenly very, very tired.
Something - freezing cold - coils around his fingers as Aziraphale sleeps.
Icy little tendrils waft across his hand and rouse him into a half-blurred wakefulness. The sun has long since set by now and he has no idea how long he’s been asleep. The room is dark, bathed in shadow, and notably cold .
He knows this cold.
Aziraphale shivers, gooseflesh prickling across his skin, and absently flexes his fingers. He toys with the chill that has begun to wind around his digits like one might curl their fingers around a lover’s hair. He smiles to himself and slips his eyes shut - he knows this chill. He doesn’t want to speak the name, but he knows this touch. It winds his way up his arm, a path of comforting cool across his skin until it settles like a flattened palm across his chest.
He smiles again - broader now - and shifts, arches and relaxes his back, savoring the cold weight that has spread across his breastbone.
Something cool touches his face and Aziraphale lets his eyes open, half-lidded, bleary with exhaustion. He turns his head to stare to his left, eyes settling on Crowley’s face. He is knealt beside the bed, body awash in white and grey. He’s a little blurry to Aziraphale’s eyes, but it is undoubtedly him. Aziraphale sucks in a stuttered breath.
“S’you…” He mumbles, flexing his hand. His eyes drop quickly to where his hand is half-hanging off the bed. Crowley’s hand - partially there, and partially not - is cupped around his own. “God, it’s you…” Aziraphale says again, awe-struck, and lifts his gaze back to Crowley’s face.
Crowley says nothing, but he nods.
Aziraphale stutters out a broken breath, a tear slipping recklessly from his eye.
“I thought you’d gone… I thought,” Aziraphale searches for the words. He lifts his hand and tries to touch Crowley’s face. He can just barely feel him - the icy burn of his figure in the darkness. He isn’t a solid thing to touch, but rather an idea the shape of Crowley’s jaw, just barely cradled in Aziraphale’s palm.
“You were gone so long. I thought you’d left me,” Aziraphale whimpers, unable to stop the tears streaming down his face now.
Crowley’s expression softens, winces, brow furrowed. Aziraphale realizes then, as he stares and takes him in, that this is the clearest and the closest he has ever seen Crowley. And yet this image is still not enough.
Crowley shakes his head ‘no’. He leans in close, mouth hovering by Aziraphale’s ear. Their cheeks brush; Crowley is the touch of fresh snow on his face, a downy-soft chill that creeps over him like a shroud. Aziraphale’s eyes slip closed with a reverent gasp.
“Never,” Crowley tells him. And Aziraphale believes him.
He tilts his head, arching his cheek up more into Crowley’s frigid form, unconcerned as shivers begin to course through his neck and down his spine. He aches for this touch, has yearned for it every day since Crowley had first spoken to him in the study three weeks before. Part of him - an injured part of him, a pained part of him - wants to ask Crowley where he’s been all this time. Another part of him, the part that is simply thrilled to have him back, doesn’t care.
Perhaps Crowley had never even left. Perhaps he had simply gone quiet, processing his confessions and his newfound connection with Aziraphale. Perhaps what had been three long weeks for Aziraphale had been nothing but the blink of an eye for Crowley. He has been in this house, been dead, for over eleven years now. Do weeks even matter?
Aziraphale doesn’t have the answers, but he doesn’t need them. Not right now. Perhaps not ever.
What he needs, and what he wants, is this: Crowley’s presence, Crowley's chilling form. He wants his touch against his face. His hand atop his chest. His aura surrounding him. Aziraphale tries not to think - there is no logic in this moment, no sense. And so, without question, he defies his reason, throws his sanity to the window: he turns his head, warm cheek against frigid one and lets his lips search for Crowley's mouth.
He shudders the moment he finds Crowley’s lips - the air wrenches out of him in an almost painful gust. Crowley’s mouth is a terrifying force against his own - otherworldly, cold as death, and stagnant in the air, but Aziraphale wouldn’t trade it for anything. Aziraphale has kissed several people in his life; some were good, some were bad, some took his breath away, left him wanting.
This though? This is not like any of that at all.
This is something new, and painful, and full of longing and loneliness the likes of which he feels have never been shared by two entities before.
This consumes him.
This kiss is a ghost, a phantom - lips barely there, a soft and moving wall of chill - and he loves it. This touch, it swallows him and weakens him, his very core shivering beneath its enormity, and he cannot pull away. Doesn’t want to pull away.
They do not kiss deeply, nor passionately - logistically speaking, Aziraphale wonders if they even can. But this kiss is more than Aziraphale has ever had in his short, busy little life that he wouldn’t trade it for all the love he might experience in the world beyond this cottage.
It is a kiss of understanding, a brush of mouths that says yes, there you are, here we are, please don’t leave me here again.
It’s a kiss that tells him he will not spend another day in this cottage alone for the remainder of his life.
Something hot and surging flares in Aziraphale’s gut and he imagines how different things might be if he were ever able to take this man fully - to bring him into himself. To love him fully, to hold him, to give himself up as physically as he already has emotionally.
If he focuses very very hard, Aziraphale swears he can feel cold, stuttered breath against his face.
Aziraphale doesn’t mean to - because he likes to believe he is stronger than this - but when Crowley’s essence pulls away from him, he whimpers. He chases after it, eyes closed, body full of want, heart full of yearning, not able to accept another moment of space between them. And Crowley, despite his few words, seems to understand. The mattress next to Aziraphale begins to creak and dip, and a cool weight settles in beside him.
Aziraphale is cold but has never felt more at home. He tugs at the blankets and tucks himself under them, rolling onto his side to stare at the vague shape of Crowley on the bed next to him.
If the room is quiet enough and if he listens very, very closely in the silence, he swears he can hear Crowley sigh.
Aziraphale is suddenly rather tired again. He lets his eyes slip closed, and slides his hand across the bed into the icy space on the other side of the mattress.
“You’ll stay?” Aziraphale whispers, hopeful.
“Of course, angel,” Crowley whispers back, honest.