Aziraphale wakes the next morning with the memory of the previous night all but faded. It is a half-remembered dream, the taste of it on his lips, the shape of it in his mind, but the details are lost: just figments swallowed by sleep.
And when he wakes, he wakes alone.
He slides his hand to the opposite side of the bed, palm and fingers flat atop the mattress, searching for… well, he doesn’t know what for. Searching for substance perhaps, or a reminder that he isn’t alone. But he finds the bed is just as empty as it looks. Aziraphale rubs his eyes, his lids still heavy with sleep, and stares at the empty space beside him.
Crowley’s picture sits atop the pillow, neat and safe. Aziraphale picks it up and gazes at it for longer than he cares to admit.
Had he been alone last night? He could have sworn that… no…. Well, he can’t seem to remember. It seems so far away now.
Biting his lip, Aziraphale pushes up in the bed to sit, blankets fumbling about his waist. He scans the room. Sunlight has begun to stream in through the sheer curtains, a warm glow filling the space and replacing the dark of the night.
He remembers the icy chill that had curled around his fingers and hand the night before. He remembers a comforting weight across his chest. He remembers lips, the touch of a cold face. But these things are faded sensations, so distant to him now that they could have been memories from years ago, or ones that never even happened. Aziraphale brings his hand to his chest and clutches at his nightshirt, where he remembers a cold touch lingering across his body. He clings to it like it might somehow help him remember. Like it might somehow make it real. But it doesn’t.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale whispers to the empty room, hopeful for (but not expecting) a response.
The room is quiet, and Aziraphale tries, as best he can, not to be disappointed. He finds he’s been doing that an awful lot these last few weeks - mitigating his disappointment and sadness. Aziraphale groans and drags his fingers through his hair. He’s about to get out of bed but he stops, his hand on the duvet, when he hears a familiar shuffling sound from the hallway.
He all but lights up, eyes going a little wide and looking expectantly towards the hall.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale asks again.
The footfalls continue, slow and sure as they migrate down the hall. They sound as if they're leaving the study, moving towards the bedroom. A hazy shape trails with them, moving with the sound into the open doorway of his bedroom.
Crowley’s figure grows more and more defined as he approaches, and by the time he’s reached the bedroom, his shape is a recognizable, familiar form. He's still fuzzy around the edges, and Aziraphale can easily see the open door of the study through Crowley's chest, but he is there. His white eyes peer into the bedroom, locking with Aziraphale’s gaze. His expression is a little unclear - image washed out a bit by the ever-brightening sunlight - but Aziraphale could swear the corner of his mouth is turned upwards.
Aziraphale beams at him.
“Oh,” Aziraphale whispers as relief floods him, “Hello, darling…”
“Hello, angel,” a voice whispers back to him, Crowley’s mouth unmoved by the sound of his voice.
Two days later, Anathema calls.
She tells him, with rather a good bit of enthusiasm, that because Crowley is deceased and has no next of kin, that his books are considered a part of the estate. The rightful owner of the estate is whoever has purchased it - first, Anathema’s agency, and now, Aziraphale. He is free, she yells at him over the phone, to release the books however he sees fit.
Aziraphale thanks her over and over again, to the point where she eventually insists she has to go and meet her next client. Aziraphale apologizes, bids her goodbye, and moves to hang up the phone. But before he can, with his finger hovering over the End Call button, Anathema’s voice calls out to him once more.
“Oh, Aziraphale, one more thing!” Aziraphale brings the phone back to his face.
“I thought you might wanna know, I think Newt might have found something out about Gabriel…”
Aziraphale pauses, his eyes wrenching up to stare around the room. He knows Crowley is here somewhere - can feel his presence in every corner of the study - but he cannot see him. Aziraphale swallows the thick lump that has suddenly appeared in his throat and licks his lips.
“Oh?” His voice is far coarser than he’d meant it to be.
“Yeah. Newt found a news article from a couple of towns over… Dated about 8 years ago.”
“About Gabriel?” Aziraphale tries not to sound surprised, but he can’t mask the confusion.
“About a car accident.”
“Yeah… Newt was at the library, trying to find some old articles on some the various car shows that have been held in the neighbouring areas and he stumbled across it.”
Aziraphale furrows his brow, more than a little confused.
Anathema makes a small pfft from the other end of the line.
“Yeah, classic car shows. It’s kind of a new fascination. He’s having fun, at least. I think he likes them cause there aren’t any fancy electronic bits in them for him to break. He’s been spending uh,” She pauses and laughs, “a lot of time going through old periodicals at the library about car shows in the area - I mean, he probably could’ve just googled it, but again, you know how he is with computers. But anyway, he found an article put out by the organizers of a car show a few villages over, a sort of In Memoriam article about one of the show’s regular attendees. A guy going by the name Gavin .”
Anathema pauses, almost like she’s waiting for Aziraphale to say something about the name. Aziraphale clears his throat and sits down at the kitchen table.
“I’m afraid I don’t… really follow, my dear.”
She lets out a soft huff into the phone.
“ Gavin apparently showed this car - a classic Bentley - in the show every year for about 3 years. Then 8 years ago, he was in a really nasty accident. Newt did a little digging and managed to find the police report for it - the car flipped, whole thing went up in flames, and Gavin ,” Anathema says the name again with slow deliberation, “never got out. But here’s the thing: the car was apparently registered under the name Crowley . Anthony Crowley.”
Aziraphale lets out a stuttering breath. He looks around the kitchen again, desperate to see the shape of Crowley’s figure. Just there, in the far corner by the pantry, tucked away in the shadows is the vague shape of him. Aziraphale stares at him, silent, but expectant.
Quiet understanding of Aziraphale’s conversation graces Crowley’s hazy but faded features. He nods to Aziraphale - wordless in his confirmation that yes, that car was his.
“Well, that is quite a shame,” Aziraphale hisses into the phone, keeping his gaze centered on Crowley. The bite in his tone is more than obvious, “Bentleys are such nice cars…”
Crowley’s face is mostly faded and hidden by the shadows, but Aziraphale doesn’t miss the sad smirk the creeps onto his lips. Aziraphale feels almost satisfied.
“Yeah I thought you might find that interesting,” Anathema replies, “I can’t imagine it’s a coincidence… Don’t think there are many Anthony Crowleys out in those little villages. Figured it had to be…” She pauses, as if searching for the right word, “ your Crowley.”
Aziraphale pauses at that too - the sound of the possessive hanging heavy in his ear.
Your Crowley .
Aziraphale lifts his head once more to gaze at the corner of the room, finding Crowley’s blurry shape with ease now.
Yes , he thinks, my Crowley.
He clears his throat, mind reverting quickly back to the fact that Gabriel had apparently lived for three solid years just a few towns over after Crowley’s murder.
“I just can’t… believe he just got away with it,” Aziraphale hisses under his breath.
Anathema hums into the phone - a quiet sound but laced with understanding.
“I think the police around here were just… way out of their depth. Viewing Crowley’s death as a murder was… a lot more complicated than viewing it as an accident. Willful ignorance, I suppose. Easier to let Gabriel disappear as the brokenhearted lover than to consider his possible involvement.”
“He got to just… live his life, even after what he...” Aziraphale can’t even finish the sentence. He is trying, so very, very hard, to not sound as upset as he feels. But the anger and pain are bubbling in chest at the sheer, audacious injustice of it all.
It isn’t fair.
“For a brief while, it would seem he did, yes.”
Aziraphale lets out a frustrated, shaky huff. The image of Gabriel riding up to all those car shows in Crowley’s car, showing it off, smiling as he introduced himself as Gavin , makes him positively sick. Crowley was dead , drenched in icy water, body buried in an untended and unloved grave, while his murderer roamed the villages without a care in the world. His fiery death is a comfort to Aziraphale’s soul, of course, but not much of one.
“At least he’s gone now,” Aziraphale whispers, still trying his best not to sound too upset.
Something cool wraps around his shoulders - a frigid, but welcome embrace. Crowley winds himself around Aziraphale, trying as best he can to stave off the upset he knows he's feeling.
“I’m so sorry, Aziraphale,” Anathema tells him.
“Thank you, dear girl. We’ll talk soon.”
When they hang up, it takes Aziraphale a moment to attempt to collect himself. He has other calls to make, and he can’t let this moment of pain linger. With a frustrated huff, he angrily wipes the tears from his eyes, and allows himself to revel for a moment in the comfort of Crowley’s cool embrace.
“It’s alright, love,” Crowley whispers into his ear.
“No, it’s not… ” Aziraphale whimpers back, hand slamming over his eyes to hide the ache roiling within him.
It takes a few more rather long moments for Aziraphale to collect himself enough to bear another phone call. Crowley, for those long moments, doesn’t leave his side. Aziraphale sits slumped down in a chair at the kitchen table, while Crowley’s presence encompasses him. Crowley stays there, wrapped around Aziraphale, and waits. He waits and engulfs Aziraphale until the sadness has ebbed and has been replaced with only the knowledge of Crowley’s affections.
After a few minutes, Aziraphale straightens himself up, wipes his eyes and sniffles.
“Thank you, darling…” Aziraphale mutters to Crowley’s presence. He clears his throat and shimmies his shoulders, as if shaking off the grief, and picks up his phone.
The next call he makes is to Madame Tracy. He tells her that he’s got an entire collection of books that he needs to release rather quickly. He tells her that he desperately needs her assistance - he’s not afraid in the slightest to admit he has no idea what his next steps should be. She tells him to bring all the books to her shop and that they’ll get to work on transcribing them together.
As soon as he hangs up the phone, Aziraphale sighs, and a contented grin replaces his previously despondent expression.
“I’m going to share your work with the world .”
Coolness darts around him again, winding itself around his shoulders like a serpent. Aziraphale exhales, low and slow, and lets his eyes slip closed, leaning back in his chair and basking in the sensation.
“It’s what you deserve, my love. The world should have seen you eleven years ago…”
Something soft and cool presses against his cheek. A voice - quiet as a distant heartbeat - croons into his ear.
It takes six months before any of Crowley’s books are released online to the public.
Madame Tracy and Aziraphale spend their time transcribing them, while Anathema helps consult lawyers and marketing teams to ensure the books have received their proper exposure. Madame Tracy, bless her enthusiasm, becomes an avid supporter of Crowley’s books. She reads one, and then another, and then another, and before Aziraphale knows it, she has devoured all of Crowley’s works like they were candy in a display dish. She waxes poetic about them every single time Aziraphale visits her shop; she tells him what a gem of an author Crowley is and that it's a shame the young man has passed.
Tracy is especially fond of Tadfield Manor: A Ghost Story . She says she finds the ghost in it positively enthralling and magnetic; to quote her, “He’s a haunting figure one could simply fall in love with.”
Aziraphale gets it. He knows that feeling more deeply that she could understand.
Madame Tracy assures Aziraphale, with absolute confidence, that Crowley’s books are treasures. She assures him that they will be appreciated as such.
Aziraphale just hopes she’s right.
Life with a ghost (which Aziraphale has finally come to accept as the proper term for Crowley) remains an interesting experience. It’s not exactly an experience that Aziraphale had ever expected himself to live, but it is one that he has become inextricably entangled with nonetheless. Crowley has become an absolute staple in his life.
He is the phantom in his home, the memory that haunts his halls, he is the man that Aziraphale has come to love, no matter how ridiculous it might sound.
Crowley shuffles through the house at all hours of the day - moving from room to room, back and forth across the floors, up and down the stairs, in all the same ways Aziraphale does each day. Sometimes there is a dripping sound attached to his movements, but Aziraphale has found that it has become far less frequent over time. He hopes - though he can’t be sure - that the gradual fade of the dripping is a sign that perhaps Crowley has shed himself of his horrid tragedy, and has replaced it instead with Aziraphale’s affection.
He hopes. But he can’t know for sure.
The stains on the floor never do go away, after all.
Aziraphale doesn’t always see Crowley in the house - but he is easy enough to sense. He feels him whenever he stands in one place for too long, or whenever he lets his hands linger in Crowley’s cherished spaces. The books, the typewriter, his photograph, the study. The chill of Crowley’s presence around him is notorious and far too noticeable to be mistaken for a draft. Aziraphale hears him all around the house, he catches glimpses of him in mirrors and through doorways. At night, he can see him walk into Aziraphale’s bedroom, shuffling from the doorway to the bedside, his aura taking up residence on the empty side of Aziraphale’s bed, just to keep him company for the night. He dreams of Crowley each night, and wakes to Crowley’s unearthly touch each morning.
They live their lives as parallel entities, moving about the home and immersing themselves in all the same spaces, overlapping with each other whenever the moments are right.
Crowley winds himself around Aziraphale like a favored piece of clothing or jewelry, a comforting presence that Aziraphale will gladly wear for as long as Crowley will let him.
Aziraphale never once removes Crowley’s ring from his pinky.
And if he finds himself thinking about Crowley and the feel of him at all hours of the day, well that’s his business.
It’s been a month since Crowley’s books were released, and they’re finally starting to pick up traction. People always notice free books - the prospect of an entire set from a now-deceased author is far too enticing for people to pass up. And, at least per Madame Tracy, people appear to be jumping on Crowley's novels left and right.
Aziraphale is grateful.
The world should have seen these books eleven years ago - but at least it will see them now.
Aziraphale treats himself to a bath. He does so because he deserves it, because of course he does. He’s worked frightfully hard these last few months (out of love, of course), alongside Madame Tracy and Anathema, and the work has finally begun to pay off. He deserves to relax a little. Plus, people are doing wonderful things with bath products these days, so why not treat himself a bit? Anathema had recommended him something called a Bath Bomb , and frankly, his soaks have been forever changed. Lovely things, bath bombs. Delectable on the skin, not to mention all the lovely, milky colors they create of the water.
The bathroom is warm around him as he relaxes in the touch-too-warm water. With the door closed, the steam has begun to build up, clouding the room and leaving a fine layer of fog across the glass of the mirror. Aziraphale dares a few glances towards it, half-expecting Crowley to have written something in it. But there’s nothing there. Aside from a few isolated incidents, Crowley mostly seems to respect his privacy.
On the one hand, Aziraphale is rather grateful for the show of courtesy.
On the other hand, he's more than a little disappointed that he’s unable to share this private moment with the boy.
Downing the last of the wine in his glass, Aziraphale sinks a little more deeply into the bath, and tries very hard to simply feel .
He feels for Crowley, lets himself imagine all the ways he has longed for him since the moment he bought the house. Something warm begins to tingle in his gut, and so he thinks harder. He lets his thoughts probe outwards, actively looking, searching for Crowley’s presence there in the bathroom with him.
But Crowley just isn’t there.
The heat in Aziraphale's chest fizzles.
With a frustrated huff, Aziraphale undoes the drain and steps out of the tub. He dries himself with care and wraps his towel around his waist. Approaching the mirror, he stands in front of its foggy pane and stares at his distorted reflection. In the haze, he can just barely make out the shape of himself. A little too broad on the shoulders and a little too round at the hips, but all in all, he likes his appearance. He wonders - despite himself - if Crowley likes it too.
What a silly thing to think.
And yet, he thinks it still. He’s never ached more for Crowley’s chill to wrap around him than he does in this very moment. Locked in the steam and heat of the bathroom, he longs for the feeling of Crowley’s cold embrace engulfing him, pressing icy lips to his skin, encompassing him in ways Aziraphale cannot even begin to describe.
He huffs and drags his hand across the mirror, wiping away a stripe of condensation so he can look at his face. His skin is flush and bright - and he cannot help but wonder if Crowley’s skin ever flushed like this? When he’d been alive, how did the heat kiss his skin? Pale, peach skin effused with warmth like the brightest of summer days, sheen of sweat across his shoulders like the sun had personally laid its hands on him.
It's a lovely image.
Aziraphale would have loved to have kissed that blush into Crowley’s skin. He adores the comfort that Crowley’s frigid embrace brings him, of course, but he cannot help but imagine how Crowley might have felt when he was still alive. Aziraphale licks his lips and ignores the subtle ache that burns in his gut, singing its way down to his groin.
With one hesitant hand, Aziraphale lifts his finger to the mirror and begins to scrawl two short words into the fog with pointed precision.
W A N T Y O U.
Because he does .
He wants . And a part of him hopes that Crowley sees it, hopes that he feels these feelings that have been building in Aziraphale's core from the moment he’d first laid eyes on Crowley’s books. Aziraphale wants and he yearns , and he aches . It's just a shame he does so for the one man he knows he cannot ever truly have.
And yes, it hurts, but he’s come to accept that by now. Has come to accept that despite his wanting, the love he shall have will forever be bound by the veil that separates him and Crowley. It’s not fair, but it is what it is, and he imagines there’s nothing to be done about it anyway.
No need to despair.
He finishes drying off and slips into his pyjamas - a comfortable, white satin pair that he’d picked up in SoHo just a couple months ago. He quite likes them - they feel rather decadent on his skin and he’s never been one to deny himself a quiet little pleasure like this. He drapes his towel with care on the hook and opens the bathroom door, migrating into the bedroom as he buttons up his shirt.
He stops in his tracks as his eyes catch sight of Crowley’s hazy figure standing sheepishly by his bedside. The room is dim in the evening darkness, illuminated only by the light that filters in from the bathroom. Crowley’s body is a faded, flickering shape not ten feet from him. His image is somehow both captured by the glow from the bathroom and hidden by the bedroom's shadows.
The buttons of Aziraphale’s shirt are only half done up, and his fingers had stilled the moment he’d stepped into the bedroom. Three buttons are still open, leaving the soft skin and fair hair of his chest partially exposed. With hesitant fingers, he drops his hands to his sides, pointedly leaving the shirt partially undone. Crowley’s aura flares a little, the briefest extra flash of white pulsing around his edges.
Aziraphale forces himself to swallow the lump in his throat and lifts one hand so he can drag it across the exposed skin on his chest. His fingers trace his own collar bone; they ghost across his skin and bone so faintly he lets himself believe this is what Crowley’s intimate touch might feel like. Crowley doesn’t move from his place by the bed, but he doesn’t break his focus on Aziraphale either. His eyes are stock-white, empty as they’ve always been, and yet Aziraphale knows that his gaze is focused on him.
He knows that Crowley is staring .
“I don’t mind, you know,” Aziraphale whispers to him, his trembling fingers flitting down his shirt now to undo all the buttons he had previously fastened.
He pops the remaining four buttons of his shirt with precision. He swallows thickly as he reaches the last one and slips it through its hole, leaving his whole torso exposed.
“I don’t mind if you look.”
His words are breathless on his lips, voice so soft that he isn’t even sure if Crowley has heard him. But Crowley must have because his head cocks slightly, his gaze still fixated on Aziraphale.
“In fact,” Aziraphale starts again, turning slightly away from Crowley and moving to stand in front of his closet mirror. He has both hands on the lapels of his shirt, poised to remove it. “In fact, I rather like that you look…”
In the mirror, Aziraphale can see Crowley’s figure just over his shoulder. He’s still standing by the bed, but he seems much closer now, and in the reflection, his features seem almost clearer, better defined. Aziraphale licks his lips, and with an unexpected bout of bravery, he slides his pyjama top off his shoulders. He lets it slip down his arms and crumple to the floor in a silent heap. His torso now bared, Aziraphale rolls his shoulders a little, flexing his muscles beneath his skin, letting the tension in his neck and back tighten, then ebb beneath the ferocity of Crowley’s gaze.
Aziraphale watches as Crowley’s figure begins to move. He strides across the bedroom with precise steps - his motions still notably unnatural, missing bits of fluidity that might signify a living and breathing person. Months ago, he might have been horrified at the sight. Now, though, Aziraphale can only long to have him closer.
Aziraphale’s focus never leaves his shape in the room - so hazy and yet so there, growing clearer the closer he comes. Aziraphale bunches his fingers into his pant legs, forming solid fists in the fabric. He feels rather unstable in this moment, shivers threatening to wrack his body.
“I think about it often, you know?” Aziraphale mewls as he clenches his fists more tightly in the silk of his pyjama bottoms. Crowley continues to move towards him, closing the space between them with steady, measured steps. Aziraphale tries not to let his voice stutter, “I think of… of all the things we might have had. You and I…”
Crowley is close now - close enough that Aziraphale has begun to feel the chill of his presence ghosting across the bare skin of his back.
“How-” Aziraphale starts, breath stuttering to a gasp on his lips as Crowley moves fully behind him. The coolness of his presence encompasses him like a veil, “How I would have loved to have touched you as you were… How I’d love to touch you now .”
His voice is too tense, too tight like a wire in his throat. Crowley’s face is so clear to him now in this reflection, his figure behind him, head coming to rest affectionately atop Aziraphale’s shoulder, cradled by the camber of his neck. Aziraphale doesn’t mean to, but he whimpers at the touch, goosebumps careening across his exposed skin as he shudders under Crowley’s presence. His thoughts drift back to that night so many months ago when Crowley had come to his bedside, after three weeks of silence, and had kissed him and drank him with a mouth that wasn’t even truly there.
The touch had been electric, stirring in the most painful of ways. So incorporeal, but Aziraphale had been so full of longing he hadn’t cared.
Much as he doesn’t care now. Ghost or not, immaterial or not, Aziraphale still longs for this man.
“How I would… love for you to touch me now,” he whimpers to Crowley.
It’s a plea - Aziraphale knows it is - and even with the quiver of his voice and the breathlessness of his tone, he cannot help but ask it of Crowley. The cool air of Crowley’s presence nuzzles against his cheek, the touch of him like burning ice, coursing along the skin of his neck and down his shoulder. Another chill engulfs him, wrapping around his middle like a pair of arms might, splaying across his soft stomach like a pair of wandering hands.
Aziraphale gasps, breath unsteady in his chest. Below the waistband of his pants, he knows he’s grown hard with the ache.
The cold is back against his neck again, flush and insistent, like lips peppering feather soft kisses across his skin. It weakens his knees, makes something akin to fire flare up in his loins. And if Aziraphale focuses, really focuses, he could swear that within the icy coldness of this touch, there is a flash of warmth too. Somewhere beyond the frigid chill of death, there is warmth that resembles the comforting sensation of a mouth open against flesh, tongue searching and tasting. It feels so human, so close to all the things he’s ever longed for from Crowley. A cold sting warmed by the heat of passion as he invites Crowley into himself.
“Oh god,” Aziraphale hisses and the electric cold sensation of Crowley’s touch encompasses him.
It splays across him, drags ghostly fingers along his flesh. He wonders how he feels to Crowley’s hands - can Crowley feel him, truly feel him, solid and warm beneath his searching fingers? Or does Crowley ache for the fullness of their bodies just as Aziraphale does? He can’t be sure, but he stutters and shivers beneath Crowley’s touch nonetheless, no matter how discorporate it is.
“Cr-Crowley,” He pleads, voice a high-pitched whimper as Crowley’s hands begin to explore him further. They drift southwards, down towards the waistband of pants. Aziraphale follows his motions, hand trailing down across his own chest and stomach. He slips it past his waistband, and all but pleads for Crowley to follow.
“ Please , love…”
“Shhh,” a voice whispers into his ear - comforting - as the chill of his touch follows Aziraphale’s hand.
Aziraphale grips himself with a shuddered breath, daring an experimental stroke as Crowley’s essence seems to follow the motion. His knees grow weak as he lets his hand slip along his length again. How he longs to lean back into Crowley’s embrace. He’s all around him now, surrounding him with air so charged it almost takes his breath away. The air hitches in his throat as his hand lazily drags up and down his cock. If he focuses, he swears he can feel the tickle of Crowley’s hair against his cheek and ear, the press of his lips against the camber of his neck. If he focuses, he swears he can once again feel that hot, wet warmth of an open mouth across his flesh.
“God, how I ache f-for you, darling,” Aziraphale pants, his eyes screwing shut as the pleasure roils and builds within his gut.
“I’m here,” Crowley lilts in the silence. The chill of him surrounds Aziraphale’s hand on his dick, following each motion with care, and Aziraphale could almost pretend it is solely Crowley’s hand that is pleasuring him.
This is far too much.
It’s not nearly enough.
But Aziraphale is getting close now, and Crowley’s aura is all but pulsating with every beat of Aziraphale’s frantic heart.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale whines, frantic, as he nears his orgasm.
“I’ve got you,” he whispers.
He strokes himself harder, a fraction faster, and he feels a breath against his ear.
With that, he comes, shuddering; his entire body quakes as Crowley’s name spills from his lips.
It’s six months later and Aziraphale has just turned 48.
It’s his birthday today and he’d sworn to Anathema that he’d make a point to at least get out of the house a little . She thinks he’s been cooped up too long, especially now that the excitement from the release of Crowley’s books has begun to settle. He’d much rather spend his birthday at home, lounging around the house lazily with a good glass of wine, a few sweet treats, and Crowley lingering at his side for the day. But a promise is a promise, so out of the house Aziraphale goes.
He meets Anathema for tea and scones at a little cafe in SoHo, and follows that up with a short trip to Madame Tracy’s shop. Anathema asks him, as they stroll down the street towards the bookshop, if Aziraphale has looked at any of the reviews for Crowley’s books. He tells her no; he tells her he hasn’t had the time.
It’s a lie.
He’s had plenty of time, undoubtedly. What else does he have to busy himself with, anyway?
No. He hasn’t read the reviews simply because he has not yet found the courage to do so.
Crowley’s books have been available, completely free of charge, to the world now for months - reviews have poured in (at least according to Tracy) for each and every novel. And although both Anathema and Tracy have assured him the reviews are good, and that they sing Crowley’s praises, Aziraphale is still far too afraid to open one up and find it full of disparaging comments. These aren’t just random books to be criticized and picked apart with ill-intent, as critics often do: these are pieces of Crowley, some of the last physical remnants left of him.
Aziraphale doesn’t want to see them belittled.
By the time they reach the bookshop, Anathema is all but begging him to at least read a few reviews. She swears she’ll send him some of her favorites. She swears she hasn’t seen a truly bad review yet.
Begrudgingly, Aziraphale agrees.
Madame Tracy is thrilled to see him (Mr. Shadwell is too, in his own snarky way), and in honor of his birthday, she bestows upon him a sackful of brand new books that she insists he will love. He eyes them with fondness and thanks her, vowing to crack one open as soon as he gets home.
Anathema, true to her word, sends Aziraphale links to several reviews as soon as they’ve parted ways. And by the time Aziraphale makes it home, he has finally dared to open one or two of the links. His satchel of books looped onto one arm, and his phone in his hand, Aziraphale’s attention focuses on the review. He blindly gets his key into the front door of the cottage and jostles it open.
It’s a review for The Place Beyond the Pit , and it’s positively glowing . It praises Crowley’s writing and his grasp of language - the critic describes the book as “an instant classic, a truly masterful tale that will leave each reader with something new, beloved, and different” . By the time Aziraphale is inside, a beaming smile has plastered itself onto his face.
“I’m home,” He calls out to the house, setting his bag of books on the floor as he closes his phone and shoves it in his pocket. He pulls off his coat, safely transfers Crowley’s photograph from the jacket to his pants pocket, regathers up his satchel of new books, and heads up the stairs towards the study.
He deposits his bag from Tracy’s shop on the desk and pulls out the new books she gave him. There are six total, a mixture of genres, but he doesn’t miss the fact that two of them are most certainly ghost stories. He smiles and shakes his head, leaving the books sitting on the desk while he goes to rearrange the bookshelf to make space for them.
Aziraphale removes and rearranges a few books, careful not to disturb any of Crowley’s in the process. He really must get rid of a few books, but oh goodness, what could he ever stand to part with? For now, he’ll just need to wedge the books in close together so there’s space for the new ones. Aziraphale has almost coordinated enough space when he suddenly hears the books on the desk tumble onto the floor with a loud thunk on the hardwood.
He turns his head to look at the desk and at the messy pile of books now scattered across the study’s floor. He sighs and notes only just then that the room does feel a bit chilly. Aziraphale shakes his head with a chuckle and walks over to the desk.
“Really, my dear?” He tuts, only slightly exasperated as he picks the books up from off the floor.
From somewhere in the room, Crowley whispers a soft, half-hearted apology.
“Oh, come now,” Aziraphale scolds playfully, “You mustn’t be jealous. They were a gift.”
Aziraphale finishes picking the books up, still a bit bemused, and heads over towards the shelf to store them.
With a soft grin, he drags his fingers along the stark-red spines of Crowley’s books.
“Plus, you already know how much I adore your work.”
Aziraphale begins to shelve the new books, making sure to keep one out in case he feels like reading it tonight, though something tells him that he won’t.
“The critics are calling your books masterpieces , you know? They say they’re brilliant,” Aziraphale swallows, “Rightfully so. Some have even… wondered whether or not you’ll ever release another. I suppose that’s only fair for them to wonder - they don’t know, do they?”
They don’t know you’re dead , Aziraphale thinks to himself.
He pauses, shakes himself of the thought, and shrugs.
“You could try to write another, I suppose.”
It’s a joke, because of course it is. It has to be.
“Now wouldn’t that be a selling point for a publisher? A book that was, quite literally, ghost-written ?”
Aziraphale laughs in the silence of the study, but the sound is far too forced. It is too far away, a voice that is hardly even his own. His smile fades for a moment, a brief flash of despair settling over him at the thought that Crowley will never again write another book. Aziraphale licks his lips, his face falling.
“I imagine there are so many stories in your head still. Ones that will… never come out. Stories even I will never hear. Seems so very unfair…”
Aziraphale waits in the quiet of the study for some sort of response or acknowledgement from Crowley, but receives none.
“I’m not much of a writer - not like you, darling. But sometimes I wonder if perhaps I should try… Maybe try to… write down what’s happened here. About this house… and the pond. You and me. It’s all rather extraordinary, don’t you think?”
He waits again in silence, waiting for something, waiting for anything . And it takes a moment before a soft chill engulfs his shoulders with care. The embrace reeks of despondency, but its presence is a comfort none the less. Aziraphale leans into it as best he can.
“This truly is extraordinary, you know? What’s happened between us? Maybe it should be shared. Even if the world does take it for fiction.”
The embrace of cold around him tightens for a moment, a tender gesture that Aziraphale an only interpret as positive.
“You know I love you, darling? Truly love you and all that you are.”
There’s a beat of silence in the room, but the chill never leaves. It holds him more tightly. Whispers into his ear.
“I love you, too.”
Aziraphale is 50 now and the year is on the doorstep of another December. The leaves have all dropped from the trees out back and when the air is cold enough, the pond will sometimes shimmer with a thin layer of ice on the top. It never freezes completely though, a fact that Aziraphale has learned over the years here. The pond might ice, it might grow frigid, but it never freezes through. The weather is certainly cold enough for it to, but it never does. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Aziraphale has to wonder if it’s because of what happened in those waters all those years ago. As though the pond will never freeze because it will never allow itself a a reprieve from its past.
It’s been so long now, though. Things are better now. Crowley no longer drips as he moves through the house, even the stains on the floors have begun to fade. So why will the pond not simply freeze?
Aziraphale stares out the kitchen window, the plate he was washing forgotten in his hand. The sun is going down now and the night is growing colder. The surface of the pond is as still as it ever was, and yet Aziraphale cannot forget its turbulent waters. That moment was so very long ago - that moment when he’d watched the echo of Crowley’s death through this very window. When he had flung himself from the cottage and tumbled into the water in some frantic, futile attempt to save him.
“It’s getting cold out again,” Aziraphale says to the empty kitchen.
He’s only talking about the outside temperatures, of course. There is a permanent chill that lives in the cottage. It follows him about, moving with him like the flow of the air, filling up whatever room Aziraphale has chosen to occupy. He doesn’t mind it - it’s not the same kind of cold as the cold outside.
(Though he had joked once that he was going to have to get himself another cardigan if Crowley was going to be hanging around him so regularly. Crowley had acted hurt, and had even retreated for a few days until Aziraphale had all but begged him to come back. He hadn’t meant it, after all. He never made another joke about the chill in the house again.)
Something tightens in his chest, sidles down into his stomach like bile with the ichor of his upset. He sighs and yanks his back down to the dish in his hand. He settles it into the water, unconcerned with its cleanliness, and braces his hands on either side of the sink.
“I hate this, you know,” He says again into the silent kitchen. “I have half a mind to fill that bloody pond in, just so neither of us have to suffer the reminder of it.”
Cool but firm hands grip his shoulders; they do so as tightly as they are able without the weight of a body behind them.
“It’s alright, Angel,” Crowley whispers to him. But Aziraphale cannot stand those words right now.
His sucks in a hissing breath through his teeth and shakes his head.
“No, it’s not alright!”
He doesn’t mean his voice to be as loud as it is. As soon as the words have left his lips, Crowley’s touch leaves him, the chill retreating towards the other side of the room, and instantly, Aziraphale is filled with regret. He turns around at the sink to gaze around the room. He cannot see Crowley but he knows he’s still there.
“God, I’m so sorry, love. I shouldn’t have… raised my voice like that.”
Crowley’s presence drifts closer again, hovering near the sink once more, but not yet touching Aziraphale. Aziraphale groans and leans heavily back against the sink. He buries his face in his hands and sighs into his fingers. When he speaks, his voice his muffled, but he cannot bring himself to show his face.
“It’s just that every time I see that pond, I see you in pain. And I can picture nothing else . I see you afraid, clawing for life, with no one there to help. I see you dying .”
Aziraphale heaves an unsteady breath into his hands, but doesn’t let them drop.
“I dream so often that I can save you. I see that moment over and over again in my sleep and I cannot ever change it. And it destroys me, dear boy. It positively rends me.”
Is he crying? It feels like he’s crying, but he is too afraid to pull his hands away from his face to confirm it. He doesn’t want to see the sickly wet splotches of tears across his palms. It’s been years now, he should be past this. Or at least able to handle it better than this. And yet, he cannot let it go. Every December, he finds his mind back in that pond, dripping wet, hands frantic in their search for Crowley in the water. They come up empty every single time.
Aziraphale shakes his head and drops his hands from his face.
Yes, he has certainly been crying.
“You deserved better ,” He insists through his tears.
“And it’s not fair,” Aziraphale continues, “It’s not fair that this is what we are, and what we have to work with. I know you still hurt… I know you still ache from that day. And I can do nothing for it!”
Crowley’s aura changes next to him, and once again, Aziraphale finds himself wrapped up in his companion’s cold embrace.
“We should have more, you know. More than… a half-touch there, or a wisp of comfort here. You should be in my arms. You should-” Aziraphale has to stop for a moment, voice hiccuping beneath the weight of this grief, “You should be alive . I should be able to… to kiss you like I so want to, to kiss away any of the pain you feel. But I can’t… And I fear I never will.”
Crowley squeezes him more tightly, engulfing him more completely in his essence.
“Someday, love,” Crowley whispers into his ear, “Not tomorrow, or the day after. But someday you’ll wake up, you’ll see me, and you’ll run to me and kiss me. I promise.”
Aziraphale shakes his head - it’s disbelief, it is grief, it is all the pain he cannot bear to feel.
“You don’t know that…”
Aziraphale sniffles and wipes his eyes with urgency.
“God, look at me, I’m a mess.”
Aziraphale is 60 now, and it’s a number that seems very foreign to him. No one ever wakes up and expects to be 60, but here he is, waking up from a midday nap, 60 years and 4 months old.
When he wakes, he notes there is fresh chill surrounding him, lingering in air of his bedroom. It’s a chill he has come to love so vehemently over the last thirteen years. His eyes bleary, and still foggy with sleep, he pries them open, greeted by Crowley’s barely there figure at his bedside. Aziraphale smiles and reaches out to him, his fingers grazing Crowley’s chin, disturbing the air and the figment there as he does so.
“Oh, darling,” Aziraphale sighs, closing his eyes, “I was having the most wonderful dream.”
Cold fingers rake through his hair and Crowley makes an inquisitive sound.
Aziraphale rolls onto his side so he can better look at his companion.
“Oh yes… It was you and I, we were on the beach. A nice, hot beach - and your skin was like cream, and just a little bit singed from the sun. Radiant. Your eyes were the brightest gold in that sunlight. And your hair… like fire,” Aziraphale closes his eyes, savoring the image.
Aziraphale opens his eyes again, letting his gaze settle on Crowley’s vague features. His brow furrows. Despite Crowley’s half-translucent visage, Aziraphale can still make out his expression; he doesn’t miss the crease in his brow, or the firm line of his lips. Reaching his hand out again, Aziraphale drags his fingers along the glassy edge of Crowley’s form: tries to soothe away the despondency that seems to have grown on him.
Aziraphale’s voice softens down to a whisper.
“I touched you on that beach, you know? Put my hands on your shoulders, your chest, rubbed sunscreen into the muscles, let my fingers take in your skin. I threaded my hands into your hair just so I could feel it - the silk entangled with the salt and the rough beach sand. I kissed you, too. Soft and firm, real , and oh god, how it hurt…”
Crowley bites his lip but says nothing, his white-washed eyes casting downwards and away from Aziraphale’s gaze.
“I kiss you so often in my dreams, love,” Aziraphale tells him, angling his head a little to try and coax Crowley’s gaze back up to him. “I dream of you so much that it feels like you’re the only thing I know anymore… You’ve positively invaded me.”
Crowley won’t look at him.
“No, not invaded, that’s not the right word. Because you’re always welcome, you must know that by now.”
Crowley doesn’t respond, his staunch white eyes still focused on a far away place, away from Aziraphale. Without a word, Aziraphale strokes the edge of his cheek again, and longs silently to himself that he might someday feel the stubble he images Crowley has littering his skin. For now, it is like touching fog, there, but not. Cold but present.
Aziraphale scoots back in the bed, moving away from the edge and opening a space on the mattress for Crowley to join him. Crowley waits for a moment, but seems to understand, and without objection, he slinks onto the mattress, his chill invading the space at Aziraphale’s side. Aziraphale sighs and slides his hand over onto that side of the bed, allowing his hand and forearm to occupy the space where Crowley exists. The cold zings across his skin with a prickle, creeping around him like cold water; he refuses to withdraw from it.
How many times have they done this now? Treading the line between Aziraphale’s world and Crowley’s, they have spent years slipping into the crevices and the cracks that the other has left open, hoping that someday they might establish residence there. Aziraphale loves this contact - loves any piece of Crowley that he can have - but he still yearns for more. After all these years, Aziraphale still aches to know the true touch of his body, the smell of his skin, the heat of his person, living, breathing next to his own.
But this is what they have - this is all they have. This is perhaps all they will ever have. And yes, they kiss - a phantom kiss of cold air and burning electricity. And yes, they touch, and moan, and love, and profess as best they can, and still Aziraphale yearns.
“I dream so very often of you, darling,” Aziraphale finally whispers, breaking the silence as he lets his fingers continue to flex and curl in the space of Crowley’s body next to him in bed. “Of the life we might have had… Had things only been different.”
Aziraphale’s brow tightens as he stares through Crowley’s chest and down at his own hand, pale and vague in the fog of Crowley’s shape.
“I fear there’s a life we’ve lost in which we deserved to truly be together. A life where I could have… loved you… made you happy.”
“You do that now,” a discorporate voice tells him, and Aziraphale smiles at it.
“Do you ever dream, dear heart?”
Crowley says nothing, but Aziraphale can sense the unspoken ‘no’ lingering in the air between them. He shakes his head.
“No, I don’t suppose you would, would you?” Aziraphale pauses, “How long has it been now? This little tryst of ours? Thirteen years? Fourteen?”
Aziraphale screws his eyes shut harder, warding away the tears he know will try to come. He clenches his fist in the duvet, tries to soak up the way Crowley’s essence coils around it, like the comfort of a lover’s hand embracing one’s own (because that’s what it is, after all, isn’t it?).
“Fourteen years and I… I still don’t know the true color of your eyes. Or the firmness of your flesh. Or the way your breath sounds when you lie next to me. Fourteen years of loving you, and I can’t even fully see the color of your hair,” Aziraphale hitches a breath, his eyes already betraying him as a tear slips out, defying his resolve.
With a lick of his lips, Aziraphale sighs and continues.
“Fourteen years with you, my love. And it’s so odd because I realized that... despite the ache and the want, I still wouldn’t trade it. Not for anyone. Not for all the… physicality another lover could give me. Never . I ache for you because it is you . Not simply for the flesh, or skin, or bone.”
Aziraphale forces out a laugh - wet and hitched, but a laugh nonetheless.
“Every time I visit Tracy and Mr. Shadwell, they always want to know when I’m going to… settle down properly . Find me a nice man, make him a husband, spend my days with him. And I never know how to tell them that…. I’ve already done that. I’ve… I’ve already found that, in you.”
He swallows and stares down at the silver serpent ring, still coiled around his pinky finger. It’s as much a part of him now as the finger itself; he can’t even remember the last time he took it off. Can’t picture himself ever taking it off in the future, either. With a sniffle, Aziraphale forces himself to speak again.
“I just wish I could… touch you… Really touch you. That I could see you as you are. Darling, c-can you see my colors? My hair? My skin? My eyes? Can you see my colors as they truly are?”
Something stutters in the air around him, uneasy and pained enough to make Aziraphale open his tear-wet eyes. Beside him, Crowley stares at him. He shakes his head, low and slow, a denial.
And that… that just isn’t fair. Aziraphale breaks, heart clenching like a vice in his chest. He curls in on himself and scoots closer to Crowley’s space, tears streaming down his cheeks as he seeks to hide himself away in the chill of Crowley’s form. Crowley - for all his incorporealness - still manages to take him in. He surrounds Aziraphale, engulfing him in as much comfort as his essence will let him give.
“We’ll have our chance, Angel,” Crowley hums into the room, “We just have to wait our turn.”
Aziraphale is 65 when he finally sits down at the typewriter. It’s the first time he years he’s properly sat down at it - he hasn’t had much need for it, really. He leaves it on the desk, in its proper spot, simply because that’s where it belongs. But he is 65 now, and he has vowed he will create some sort of account of his life in this cottage. He pens it as a fiction, but he knows the truth.
It is crude, this first account. He certainly isn’t the wordsmith that Crowley once was, but he’s managed to get the basics down. He pens the account as a fiction, but he knows the truth behind it, even if no one besides himself and Crowley will ever understand this story’s honest.
Aziraphale writes his portions as best he can (Crowley had, of course, offered to help, but Aziraphale had insisted that he write his own portions). But when it comes to Crowley’s experiences, Aziraphale had deferred to him. He let his low whisper his truths into his ear, fingers typing every letter Crowley spoke to him. There are pieces of this story that are his own, and there are others that are Crowley’s. lets his love whisper those paragraphs into his ear instead.
He vows to keep it safe and to update the account each year until the day he dies.
Aziraphale is 70 now, entering yet another decade of his life, and it’s the evening of his birthday.
The birthdays seem to come faster and faster with each passing year.
Aziraphale sits at the kitchen table with a small helping of a particularly fiendish devil’s food cake he’d gotten from the market for the occasion. He savors each bite with glee. You really can’t beat the little pleasures of the flesh - a good piece of cake, or a lovely croissant, or the sweet taste of a lover’s lips. He’s come close to having the last one, over these last twenty years here, but Crowley’s mouth, while electric and full of power, tastes like little more than dew to his tongue. Crowley, regardless of this, has kissed him every single night for as long as Aziraphale can remember, and it’s certainly good enough. It’s certainly a pleasure he likes to keep close, much like the thrill of chocolate on his tongue. He smiles to himself, relishing in the cool presence that hovers in the room.
Anathema and Newt had called him earlier (the darlings) to wish him a happy birthday. They tell him that they’ve just hired on an impressive new batch of realtors, a group of four who are going to manage the ever-growing Tadfield market. The group (that Newt has affectionately begun calling The Them) is a bunch of childhood friends. They work spectacularly together as a group - Anathema has high hopes for them and their ability to grow the market around Tadfield. Aziraphale certainly does too.
She asks how he’s been - Aziraphale smiles through the phone, glances around the kitchen, takes in its shadows and its glows, and tells her that he’s been the same as ever. Doing well, living comfortably. She is glad for it. She tells him that Adam, one of her newest hires, just read Crowley’s book The Place Beyond the Pit , and hasn’t shut up about it since. Aziraphale just smirks and resists the urge to say that he’ll pass the message on to Crowley. Instead, he says to her,
“Tell him to read The Downward Spiral next, it’s divine.”
She says she will.
Before they can say their goodbyes, Aziraphale gets her attention once more.
“I’m getting older, as you know… And I just want you to know that whenever I go, however far away that might be, there’s something I’d like you to do for me.”
“There’s a book I’ve written; am still writing, actually. I keep it in the study. I add to it every now and then. But it’s there, in the desk.”
“It’s… it’s rather important me, this book. And I’d like you to publish it. For free, of course, just as we did with Crowley’s books. Whenever I go, could you release it? Could you… could you do that for me?”
“O-of course, Aziraphale.”
Before she hangs up, she tells Aziraphale, with concerned certainty, to make sure he takes care of himself. He swears to her that he will and that they’ll talk soon.
Madame Tracy and Mr. Shadwell hadn’t called, but they’d sent an early birthday card just a few days prior. He’d placed it on the windowsill so he could look at it and smile, if he needed to. They don’t call much anymore, but then again, Aziraphale doesn’t go to the shop much anymore either. Aziraphale can’t really blame them. They’re getting on in years, much in the same way Aziraphale is. They’re a trifle older than he is, sure, but as far as Aziraphale is concerned, they’re all headed the same way down, just some a little sooner than others.
Aziraphale finishes the last bite of his cake and idly says, “Oh, delectable,” before he stands and brings his dishes to the sink to soak for the evening. He grins at the card on the windowsill and at Crowley’s photograph sitting next to it. He still puts it there sometimes, just so he can look at it as he mills about the house, just a little placeholder to remind him of the entity that exists around him. The polaroid is old by now though. It has grown tired and faded with its age, crinkled at the edges, worn down from all the times it has lived and slept inside his pocket. But he keeps it nonetheless - it is the closest thing he has to Crowley’s true shape and color. He’ll keep it until it is nothing but a faded memory, its details completely gone.
Staring at his reflection in the kitchen window, Aziraphale cannot help but feel like the photograph. He finds his hair is growing finer, and, if it’s even possible, the color has become whiter than it already was. The skin on his hands has gone wrinkled, and the creases around his eyes and mouth grown deeper. Time goes by so quickly, sometimes. He sighs, depositing his dishes into the sink.
“I fear I’m growing old, my love,” He tells the room. Crowley’s presence pulses, but he doesn’t disagree.
"You never had that chance, did you? To grow old?" Aziraphale lefts out a soft hum to himself, tries (and fails) to keep his sadness out of his voice, "I suppose I'll just have to grow old for the both of us, then."
Another 15 years pass in the blink of an eye, and before Aziraphale knows it, he is 85.
He’s 85 and he still likes his tea the same as he always has - a bit too hot and a bit too sweet. He’s finding the process of brewing the tea takes him longer these days; and the trips up and down the stairs to the kitchen from the bedroom or the study certainly aren’t getting any easier either.
Aziraphale sits at the kitchen table and lifts his cup to his mouth; he tries - very hard - to ignore the small tremor that has established itself in his right hand. He can steady it if he really focuses, but who has the time for that? Instead, he takes careful sips, and hopes he won’t splash the tea across the table. A little splashes out anyway as he’s setting the mug back down - he’ll have to make sure he doesn’t fill it as full next time.
Aziraphale has no denials or protests about his age, nor about the fact that he has long since entered the sunset of his life. He supposes that's a good thing, in fact, given his circumstances. He supposes it’s a good thing to be getting on in years, considering the ghost that has become an ingrained and vital part of his life.
And yet, at the same time, he cannot help the worry that has begun to build within his chest these past few years. Each day he grows a fraction more tired, a smidgen slower, a touch more withered in his bones. His end, inevitable and ineffable as it is, is approaching. And while he has no fear of death itself, he cannot help but wonder what actually lies in store for him beyond its veil.
One might think that after forty some odd years living with Crowley's ghost at his side, he might feel reassured about life after death. But he finds himself growing more and more concerned as the years pass. He cannot help but admit that he has never seen another ghost besides Crowley in all his years on this earth. And he cannot deny that he has never once heard of a house being haunted without some sort of tragedy attached to it..
He has no tragedy of his own, no awful, untimely death. The way things are going, Aziraphale is poised to die an old man, comfortable in his bed, slipping away from life as he sleeps. And what if he finds, at the end of his life, that his death has no echo to leave behind? No memory of himself left to wander the halls and haunt the corridors, much as Crowley does now. He doesn’t know if he believes in Heaven, or Hell; he admits he has no idea where the vast majority of souls go after they die. But he fears for his own.
What if, when he passes, he does so with peace, and leaves behind nary a whisper of himself for Crowley?
It is an unbearable thought, but he cannot shove it aside.
The temperature in the room drops - a sign of Crowley that Aziraphale has come to adore over the years. Aziraphale sighs and turns his head towards the kitchen sink. Crowley stands at the counter, his figure both hazy and well-defined to Aziraphale’s trained eyes. He’s been with Crowley so long now he has learned to find the intricacies of his appearance, even in a foggy apparition. Aziraphale takes in the sight of him - wild hair, sharp jaws, the youthful expression of a 36 year old man.
“Look at this,” he muses, voice reverent and sad as he speaks to his ghost, “Me an old man, and you… just as lovely as you’ve ever been.”
He tries to plaster a grin on his face, but it is false; he knows it, Crowley knows it. He doesn’t miss the look of concern that flashes across Crowley’s immaterial features. Aziraphale shakes his head and waves an unsteady hand in Crowley’s direction; his forced smile fades from his lips.
“I fear I… don’t have many more years left on this Earth; not as a man, at least.”
Aziraphale wrings his hands together, his gaze falling on the snake ring still coiled around his pinky. He twirls it around his finger like one might do their wedding ring - because that is more or less what it has become to him. A symbol of Crowley, a symbol that Aziraphale has never been able to let him go, even after all these years.
“I dream very often that one day I will fall asleep and when I wake up, I’ll find myself at your side, here in this house together. You told me once that we’d be together at the end. That we just had to wait our turn - and I hope so very deeply that you’re right, and that that time is approaching. But I’m afraid… ”
Aziraphale stops, and drops his head a little. Crowley moves across the room, his cold figure moving to stand at Aziraphale’s side, a gentle pressure on Aziraphale’s shoulder.
“I’m afraid that one day I will fall asleep and will simply… disappear. Completely . That I will leave this place, that I will go somewhere without you, where you cannot follow.”
“Angel,” Crowley starts, but Aziraphale stops him with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“I know, it’s ridiculous. It’s probably baseless, but I can’t help it. I’m afraid that… if I go with peace, there will be no part of me left to stay in this house. No part of me left behind to stay with you .”
An urgent hand lifts to his face, wiping away a tear that has snaked its way down his cheek.
It seems an odd thing, to wish for a death that is without peace.
“Darling, I love you. I don’t want to go anywhere without you.”
“You don’t know that.”
Crowley, for once, doesn’t disagree.
Two years pass, and Aziraphale is 87.
He is 87, and he is tired. Far more tired than he cares to admit.
Anathema visits him whenever she can, but she too is growing older, now in her late 60s, and trips out to the country are becoming more and more difficult for her and Newt.
Adam and the others still make a point to visit him once a month. They visit with him, sit and have tea, and talk about the goings on. They talk about the new homes in the area, and how things are going in the neighboring villages. They talk about books - because Adam and Pepper are both avid fans of Crowley’s, by now.
Aziraphale will tell them of the time when he first read each of Crowley’s books and will tell them all the thoughts he’s had about them over the years. Adam will tell him which books of Crowley’s are his favorites.
Aziraphale has come to love these visits, and even Crowley seems to revel in them, but whether Adam and his cohorts notice Crowley’s enthusiasm about their visits, he supposes he’ll never know. If they do sense anything, they don’t mention it.
They do ask him though, with some frequency, whether he gets lonely out here all by himself.
Aziraphale tells them each time, with certainty , that he isn’t.
They, of course, believe he means he isn’t lonely .
He, of course, means that he isn’t alone .
He hasn’t been alone in forty years. He certainly hasn’t been lonely, either.
Adam and the others leave as the sun begins to set, and Aziraphale finds himself rather exhausted from the day. He’s 87, after all. With a shaking hand, he finishes off the last of his tea, and begins the arduous trip up the stairs to his bedroom.
Crowley’s cold presence slips past him up the stairway, flitting up to the bedroom with ease.
“Yeah, yeah,” Aziraphale grumbles, “I’m coming. It’s easy for you, mister, but these knees don’t work like they used to, love.”
It takes time for him to slip into his pyjamas - the white, silk pair he’d gotten in SoHo all those years ago. The color is a bit less bright and stark than it once was, but then again, so is his own color. Everything fades with time.
He slips into bed just as the sun creeps down past the horizon. He normally might stay up for at least another hour, maybe reread one of Crowley’s books, but he finds he is far more tired today than he usually is. He sets Crowley’s photograph - now so faded and wrinkled that the color has all but disappeared from it - on the nightstand, the same as he does every night. Then he scoots over to one side of the bed, leaving an open space beside him for Crowley to sit in.
Crowley turns the lamp off once Aziraphale had gotten comfortable and settles onto the mattress beside him. He cards his discorporate fingers through Aziraphale’s hair - now so thin and wispy, whiter than it has ever been before. Aziraphale sighs into his pillow.
“Goodnight, darling, I love you.”
“I love you too, Angel.”
“I’ll see you in the morning,” Aziraphale murmurs, his voice very soft, and very distant.
“See you in the morning.”
When Aziraphale wakes the next morning, he finds he is not in his bedroom at all. He’s not in bed at all. Hell, he’s not even lying down. Strange, that...
Rather than upstairs in his bedroom, he is downstairs in the kitchen, standing at the kitchen sink. He leans forward and peers out the kitchen window into the dawn - the sun is just barely starting to peek over the horizon, bathing the countryside in a peaceful orange glow.
He notes, with some confusion, that the house feels rather warm right now. It feels a little different, too. A little… hazier, a little less clear. He feels almost as though there is sleep in his eyes that he must rub away.
He doesn’t rub his eyes.
Instead, without another thought, he turns away from the kitchen sink and migrates through the foyer to the base of the steps. Despite the new sunlight beginning to seep in through the windowpanes, the house seems a bit greyer than usual, overcast like a layer of dust has settled onto it. Wordless, Aziraphale ambles up the stairs.
He doesn’t even notice how easily his legs carry him up this time.
At the top of the stairs, he glances towards the study, only to find the door closed. He could go open it, he supposes, but something tells him he doesn’t need to. He turns his attention instead towards his bedroom. Without a thought he slips in and immediately heads towards his bathroom. He needs to brush his teeth, after all.
Aziraphale, however, doesn’t make it to the bathroom.
Instead, he is stopped by the sight of his reflection in the closet mirror.
There, staring back at him, is a young man. It’s a man in his thirties, at the oldest. Aziraphale furrows his brow and steps closer, investigating this person peering back at him through the looking glass.
This man, for all his youthful features, looks rather familiar. His sharp nose, thin lips, and lush white hair.
This man… This man is…
Younger. But it’s him. He’s not dressed in his pyjamas now, but rather he is clothed in his favored waistcoat and slacks. Aziraphale brings his hands to his face, dragging his fingers across the soft skin of his youthful flesh, taking in the sharp angle of his jaw, not hidden away by age’s sagging flesh. His eyes are a bright teal blue, a color whose vibrancy had faded over the decades, and turned instead to a more listless grey as he’d aged.
“Huh… Funny, that…” he tuts to himself.
He backs away from the mirror and turns towards the bed.
There is a lump beneath the covers, tucked away on one side of the bed.
Aziraphale steps towards it with a cautious eye.
In the bed is the face he remembers - his own face, aged and droopy and tired with wear. He looks very still and strange, lying there, paler than usual. Aziraphale furrows his brow and reaches a hand out to touch the covers, but he finds he cannot. His hand drifts over the duvet, but it never actually grips it.
This is a strange dream , he thinks to himself.
He imagines he’ll awake any moment now. The sun has already risen, and he’s usually up by now.
Any minute now.
Aziraphale doesn’t wake. He doesn’t wake at all.
He’s had this dream before, though. He’s had this very same dream where he has stood at his bedside and watched himself, as though he were watching his body through another’s eyes. And in those dreams, he has stood there and waited, and waited, for the last remnants of sleep to fade so that he might slip back into his waking body. In those dreams, he has always woken up.
Surely , he will wake. Any moment now, he will wake, and he will fade back into himself, ready to face yet another day.
Aziraphale doesn’t know how long he stands there. The light of the day comes and goes with the blinks of his eyes, until eventually, the man in the bed has begun to change. His skin has grown greyer, more unnatural. His limbs, that had been sprawled out and relaxed before, now appear rigid and tense.
He looks wrong , and Aziraphale doesn’t want to look at him anymore.
He leaves the bedroom and wanders to the study. Everything there is just as he’d left it. He’s sure that if he were to open the desk drawers, he would find the most recent pages of his book tucked away there. But he doesn’t reach for their handles. Instead, he leaves the study and meanders out into the hall.
The sun is shining bright again, a warm light through the windows of the cottage. He wonders what time it is. It had been dark just a few moments ago, and now it feels like it’s the middle of the day.
Time feels as though it’s passing a little strangely, like he can’t quite keep up with it.
Aziraphale stands in the upstairs hallway and looks down at his hands. They looks so youthful now - no bulging veins or prominent wrinkles anymore. Just plump, soft fingers. The fingers that he’d used to to touch every inch of this house through the years, the fingers that had first found Crowley’s photograph in the box in the attic.
Aziraphale’s head shoots up.
The thought of his name rings like a bell through his head.
He looks back down at his hands. There, on the pinky of his left hand, is Crowley’s ring.
Aziraphale sighs. Still there, then.
This is a dream. He’s sure of it.
Any minute now, he’s going to wake up, and he will tell Crowley all about this strange, strange dream he had. He will laugh and Crowley’s cold embrace will wrap around his old, fragile shoulders, engulfing him in the comfort he has grown so accustomed to over the years. Aziraphale smiles and flexes his fingers before dropping his hands back down to his sides.
When he lifts his head to look around again, he finds that the interior of the house is as black as the night, swallowed yet again by the darkness of the evening. And yet, when he blinks again, the sunlight has returned, the dawn of another day.
He is still standing in the hallway.
From the bedroom, his ears detect the faint buzzing of flies.
He doesn’t dare go back in.
The light fades to night again, only to be replaced with yet another minute-long sunrise. Aziraphale’s chest tightens as these days careen by, slipping through his grasp with every blink of his eyes. His chest is heavy and oh so fraught with tension, but he cannot feel the pounding of a heart within it. He brings one hand gently to his chest as the passage of time begins to slow back down, resembling something akin to normal. Aziraphale sprawls his hand across his sternum - he feels solid enough, and yet there is no rhythm beneath his bones. No pulse of life thrumming beneath his skin.
Fingers unsteady, he curls them against his breast, bunching up the fabric of his shirt in his fist.
Aziraphale startles out of the moment at the sound of front door locks turning. In an instant, he has raced to the top of the stairs, and peers down into the foyer as the front door opens.
Adam Young enters the cottage.
Right , Aziraphale thinks, we had a visit scheduled. Of course. Has it been two weeks already?
The boy seems a bit… dulled to Aziraphale’s eyes. It’s a strange thing, that. He looks almost washed-out, the color sucked out as though he were watching a film in sepia. Adam’s unique features, the shape of his jaw, the mop of his hair, are all there, but the little details are gone. The colors of his skin are dim and faded, threadbare, like a photograph that has seen too many days in the sun.
“Mr. Fell?” Adam calls out as he enters the cottage.
“Up here, dear boy!” Aziraphale calls to him, waving at him from the top of the stairs. But Adam doesn’t respond. Instead, the boy walks further into the house, his brow furrowed. His nose wrinkles slightly as he peers around the empty foyer. Aziraphale notes, very briefly, the state of Adam’s motions. They seem so choppy, like an old reel of film that is missing some of its frames. It is hard to follow him as he moves.
Aziraphale is sure this means something, but he cannot seem to piece it together.
“Mr. Fell?!” Adam says, louder this time. But his voice sounds very far away to Aziraphale.
“Adam? Adam, I’m here…” Aziraphale tries again, but Adam doesn’t acknowledge him.
Instead, Adam takes a cautious step forward and stands at the base of the stairs. He stares up the flight, looking right at the place where Aziraphale is standing, and yet it’s as though Aziraphale isn’t there. With a tilt of his head, Adam sniffs the air again and his face contorts again. He dares a couple steps upward, moving closer to where Aziraphale is waiting at the top, but by half-way up, he has to stop. He flings his hand over his nose and mouth with a stuttering cough.
“Oh god…” Adam gags into his hand. He screws his eyes shut and pulls his sleeve a little more firmly across his nose and mouth before he rushes up the rest of the stairs. He brushes right past Aziraphale, as though he weren’t even there, and jogs into the bedroom, still calling Aziraphale’s name.
Aziraphale watches, mouth agape, as Adam enters his bedroom. The young man makes it only two steps into the room before he fumbles out again, retching into his hand in the hallway. Some of his sick spills from between his fingers, and dribbles onto the floor. Adam stumbles down the stairs, hand still over his mouth, and yanks the front door open. In an instant, Aziraphale is suddenly apparates downstairs into the foyer, and watches as Adam dry heaves over the porch railing into the grass.
Once he has voided the contents of his stomach, Adam spits a few times, getting the last bits of sick out of his mouth. With a groan, he rights himself, rolling his shoulders a bit to regain his composure. He wipes his sullied left hand on his pants leg then digs his phone out of his pocket with his right hand. He presses the phone to his face and when he speaks into it, his voice is coarse with bile.
“Anathema,” He croaks, “Aziraphale’s gone… He’s dead.”
Realization hits Aziraphale like a ton of bricks.
He wrenches his gaze back up the stairs, and in the blink of an eye, he has transported back into his bedroom. Aziraphale stands at his bedside once again and stares down at the body that’s in it.
It is a grotesque thing. Rotted now, and ripe with decay, the skin a sickly green, verging on red and black in places, and its shape beginning to bloat. The flies and maggots are crawling across him, all over him, their buzzing almost deafening to him now. How had he not noticed it before? Standing there now, he finally smells it, too: the far-too distinctive stench of death and rotten. His brain tells him that he should be sick, but nothing in his gut churns.
Instead of being ill, he simply stares down at his body, down at the thing he had once called Himself. It’s just a shell now, a leftover piece of the man it had once been.
This is a dead body.
This is his dead body.
He was an old man, and he fell asleep in his bed for the last time two weeks ago.
Aziraphale’s eyes dart up, understanding washing over him.
He’s dead .
“Crowley…” Aziraphale whispers, and sprints from the bedroom.
He runs into the hallway, still careful to move around the spots where Adam had vomited (would it even matter if he stepped in it? He can’t be sure, but probably not). He hurries into the study and looks about the room with searching urgency, but the room is empty.
“Crowley??” Aziraphale calls out into the house. He runs from the study and flits down the stairs with an ease he hasn’t felt in decades.
He finds no one in the foyer, aside from the open door and Adam still talking on the phone out on the porch. There is a moment, when Aziraphale tumbles past the open front door, that he could swear Adam turns to look back into the house. But Aziraphale can’t focus on that now. He darts into the living room, but finds it empty. Rushing back to the foyer, Aziraphale threads his hands in his hair as he darts his attention every which way. He whips his attention towards the kitchen and stops short as his eyes land on a vibrant figure propped up against the kitchen sink.
Aziraphale turns to face him - eyes wide as he takes the man in.
He is vibrant, and solid, so very real in his appearance. He’s tall, dressed in all black, with a grey scarf slung casually around his neck. His hair is a thick mess of fire-red, his skin the finest alabaster. He is poised against the kitchen sink, leaned back against it, casual and comfortable in his skin as he watches Aziraphale patiently. There is a smile on his sharp, angular face: a grin of pure, unadulterated joy. And his eyes… my god , his eyes are as vivid and golden as the very sunlight that is filtering through the window around him.
Aziraphale’s face lights up as he swallows this image up. Laughter bubbles up from his chest, unable to be contained, as he stares at Crowley.
This is it, isn’t it? This is Heaven, and an angel has come to greet him. He licks his lips and tries to ignore the way his throat has become so very tight.
“Crowley?” He whimpers, still not sure if he should believe his eyes or not.
The man in the kitchen chuckles and nods.
“It’s about time, old man.”
A laugh that the living might have called manic, or frantic, erupts from Aziraphale’s throat. But it is a laugh of joy, of disbelief; it is a laugh of a love that he cannot seem to suppress. Aziraphale cannot contain himself as he sprints wildly from the foyer and into the kitchen, flinging himself into Crowley’s waiting arms. Aziraphale careens into him with bruising force, drawing Crowley - so real, so physical now - into a full-fledged embrace.
Crowley is a solid mass in his arms. For the first time in forty years, Aziraphale is holding him. He buries his face into Crowley’s neck - so warm, so soft, so real - and peppers kisses along it.
He pulls away just slightly so he can get his hands on either side of Crowley’s face. He cradles his jaw and turns Crowley’s head from side to side, inspecting him. His cheeks practically ache from the wideness of his grin.
“It’s you,” Aziraphale sputters with another giggle, “It’s really you.”
Aziraphale pauses, one hand stroking Crowley’s cheek as the other moves to card through his hair. It’s silky and thick - just as Aziraphale had always imagined it would be.
“It’s me,” Crowley reassures him.
“God, your eyes… They’re beautiful.”
Crowley nods again.
“And yours,” Crowley tells him. His tongue darting out to lick his lips before he ducks his head down and claims Aziraphale’s mouth with his own.
Aziraphale groans against his lips. The fingers in Crowley’s hair tighten and curl, claiming the thick strands on the back of Crowley’s head between them with an urgent tug. Crowley whimpers but doesn’t pull away - instead, he kisses Aziraphale more deeply, mouth opening for the first real taste of each other they’ve ever had.
Aziraphale doesn’t know why, but when they break apart, he does so with a sob on his lips. It chokes out of his throat, swallowed only by Crowley’s mouth, and his eyes are wet. Is he crying? Why is he crying?
He ducks his head down as he breaks away from Crowley, as if to hide his shame, but he doesn’t let the other man go.
“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale whimpers. When had his throat become so tight?
“Aziraphale, it’s-” Crowley starts, but Aziraphale doesn’t let him continue.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I don't know why I didn’t find you sooner…. I just couldn’t… I didn’t realize what had-”
Crowley stops him with a gentle hand along the edge of his jaw. He tilts Aziraphale’s head up, forcing him to meet his eyes. When he does, Crowley smiles a soft, sympathetic smile, and lets his thumb wipe away any remnants of tears lingering on Aziraphale’s cheeks.
“Don’t be upset, it’s okay. It takes time…” Crowley pauses and lets his hand slip into Aziraphale’s hair, petting it with quiet reassurance, “It’s all a bit… surreal at first, isn’t it?”
“I just didn’t understand… ”
“I didn’t either, when I went… It’s okay. It takes time t-to process it. To really grasp what’s happened.”
Crowley’s tongue drags over his lower lip and his fingers begin to card through Aziraphale’s curls a little more urgently. Whether the gesture is for Aziraphale’s comfort or for Crowley’s own, Aziraphale can’t be sure.
Crowley clears his throat and continues.
“I stood by that pond for three weeks after I…” Crowley stops, doesn’t want to say the word ‘died’, “I just stood there and watched my body float in the water, growing waterlogged and rotten. Took me ages to understand. And then paramedics came, and the police came, and they took me away but they wouldn’t hear me, they never could hear me… I screamed for them, I called out to them, but they never…”
Crowley’s eyes grow a little faint, his gaze growing distant. Aziraphale’s brow tightens and his lifts a hand to cradle Crowley’s cheek.
“I heard you, dear heart.”
With that, Crowley seems to come back to himself. He huffs an uneasy breath and the smile returns to his face. He gives Aziraphale’s hair another loving stroke and chuckles his words.
“That you did… That you did, Angel.”
They stay like that for another moment longer, Aziraphale’s hand on Crowley’s cheek, Crowley’s fingers laced in Aziraphale’s hair. And Aziraphale could swear he has never felt the sort of happiness that he feels bubbling up inside him now as he takes Crowley in. He’s here , and Aziraphale can touch him, can see him, can taste him. It’s been forty years, and finally, it would seem, Aziraphale can actually be with him.
It seems like only a moment passes, but before Aziraphale knows it, the night has come and gone in the blink of an eye. It’s the dawn of another day, yet again. He startles in Crowley’s arms as the front door opens behind him. Aziraphale turns his head and looks back into the foyer, watching as a crew of men in EMS uniforms begin to filter into the cottage.
“Time passes a little different here, sometimes… You get used to it.”
In the next moment, the paramedics have disappeared with his body, and, like the skipping of a record, Anathema is now standing in the middle of the empty foyer. She looks around the house curiously. Aziraphale notes that she doesn’t seem to be crinkling her nose or covering her mouth - he wonders how much time has passed now. The cottage must have been cleansed of his decay, by now. He wonders if his bed is gone too. He imagines they’ll replace most of the furniture over time - he just hopes that they’ll at least leave the desk.
With hesitancy, Aziraphale disentangles himself from Crowley’s embrace, but makes sure to take hold of his hand. Careful steps take the two of them across the kitchen and into the foyer, where Anathema is now looking up the stairs. She proceeds up them with care, Aziraphale and Crowley not far behind her.
Aziraphale watches as she enters the study and opens the bottom drawer of the desk. She digs into it and finds a stack of papers, clipped together with a binder clip. She removes the stack from the drawer and settles herself into the chair at the desk. With a lick of her lips, Aziraphale watches as she drags a reverent hand over the typewriter still placed neatly in the middle of the desk. She smiles and sets the stack of papers down next to it. Anathema flips through a couple of pages before she signs and reclines back in the chair. She swivels it around to stare at the rest of the study, her eyes grazing over the three walls of in-laid shelves, filled to the brim with books. Dead in the middle, unmoved from their rightful place for forty years, are the vibrant red spines of Crowley’s books.
“I’ll get this published, Aziraphale, just like I promised.”
She says her promise to a seemingly empty room. But Aziraphale can’t lep but wonder if she somehow knows that he and Crowley have heard her.
Aziraphale blinks, and in the next instant, Anathema is gone.
It’s another day and he is standing at the top of the stairs, still next to Crowley.
The front door is opening, and Adam and Anathema are entering the cottage, with a young couple on their heels. They’re saying something about the cottage’s features, and the young couple have begun to point out little things they like they like about the home.
It must be for sale again, Aziraphale realizes. He wonders if Adam or Anathema have told this couple about his and Crowley’s deaths yet.
Crowley leads him down the stairs, following the group as they make their way through the downstairs of the cottage. It is strange now, Aziraphale notes, to watch the living. It isn’t just that their movements are strange and choppy - much as Crowley’s had appeared to him when he was still alive - but it is almost as though he is watching them through a sheer curtain. There is a barrier there, between them. It is faint, and he is sure he could disturb it if he wanted to, but the divide is there regardless.
He thinks back to his tenure in this house. He thinks of all the ways Crowley must have pushed and fought through this veil just to communicate with him. How difficult it must have been.
But then again, he wonders if perhaps he had been willing to peer back through the curtain as well. Subconsciously, perhaps, but he had rarely shied from Crowley’s contact, even in those early days when this was all new. When this was all still frightening.
He stands in the foyer with Crowley as the couple walks past him. Testing, Aziraphale lifts his hand and lets it graze the young lady’s cheek. She doesn’t jerk away from him, but she flinches at the contact nonetheless, like a chill has brushed over her. She looks around the foyer, but her eyes never land on Aziraphale’s figure. In the next moment, she has forgotten it, and moves to follow her girlfriend (or is it wife?) for the rest of the tour.
When the tour is over and when Anathema and Adam have led the young couple from the cottage and back to the car, Aziraphale follows Crowley to where he stands by the foyer window. He stares out it, watching as the couple talk to each other enthusiastically as they slip into the back seat of Adam’s car.
Anathema, as she too slides into the vehicle, dares a glance back at the cottage. Her eyes settle on the foyer window and linger for a moment longer than they might need to. Her brow furrows as she stares.
For an instant, Aziraphale could swear she is looking at him.
“The house will sell,” Crowley tells him, “ The house always sells. It’ll be lived in again.”
Aziraphale swallows and reaches out to take Crowley’s hand in his own.
“Will they see us?”
Anathema’s eyes are still focused on where he stands in the window. He could swear that she sees him now.
“Some will, some won’t. Doubt anyone will see us the way you saw me.”
“I suppose you're right.”
“But we’ll always be here. This house is ours, you know?”
Aziraphale smiles at that and nods his agreement. This house is theirs. It has been theirs for decades now. It will be theirs when a new owner comes. It will be theirs even after a thousand new owners have come and gone.
Anathema continues to stare at the window where he and Crowley are standing - and Aziraphale could swear that the corner of her mouth quirks upward into the faintest glimmer of a smile. In the next second, she seems to come back to herself, shaking her head and removing herself with whatever moment she was having, and she gets into the car after her clients.
Aziraphale lowers his head to Crowley’s shoulder as the car pulls away.
Aziraphale squeezes Crowley’s hand.
“This house is ours,” Aziraphale repeats, confirming it.
The lower beings you are looking at are us.
We faceless, nameless things that have come to own the places we call home.
We have bathed it in love, and are bound to it by devotion. We, these lower beings, it is he, and I.
We do not leave.
In the house, we remain.