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in the house we remain

Chapter Text

::

“I have heard myself say that a house with a death in it can never again be bought or sold by the living. It can only be borrowed from the ghosts that have stayed behind to go back and forth, letting out and gathering back in again. Worrying over the floors in confused circles, tending to their deaths like patchy, withered gardens. They have stayed to look back for a glimpse of the very last moments of their lives. But the memories of their own deaths are faces on the wrong side of wet windows, smeared by rain. Impossible to properly see.”

::

The cottage stands stark amid the radiant, green countryside. It is white and warm, bathed in sunlight and shining like a bright beacon at the edge of the pond that is situated to its left rear. There are wildflower fields on the other side of the pond, untouched by man, able to spread to their hearts content in the vibrant earth. The leaves in the aspen trees rustle greetings with every slight gust of wind, moving in time with the tufts of Aziraphale’s hair.

Aziraphale is in love at the very first glimpse of it.

He opens the passenger-side door of Anathema’s car and steps out, standing out in front of his prospective home, gazing in awe.

“What do you think?” Anathema asks, gathering her paperwork and files on the cottage from the back seat of the car. Aziraphale turns to his realtor, unable to wipe away the grin that has plastered itself onto his face.

“Gracious, it’s magical .”

Anathema smiles and shuts the car door, moving to stand at Aziraphale’s side.

“I thought it might be more along the lines of what you were looking for.” She points towards the water, “The pond actually extends around the house to the back, as well.”

“Might be a wonderful spot for a reading bench,” Aziraphale muses, voice syrupy with fondness for the scene in front of him. Anathema’s grin only grows.

She gestures towards the house.

“So, shall we take a look inside?”

“Oh, I hardly need to,” Aziraphale tells her, adoration palpable in his voice, “but yes, please.”

The interior is much the same as the outside - small, quiet rooms, each with just the right amount of windows to allow the sunlight to filter in and paint the walls with yellow and orange. Aziraphale meanders into the foyer and allows himself to take it in. The walls are a lovely off white wood, the boards painted but not afraid to show their age and experience. The floorboards are a dark, stained brown oak: the contrast between them and the walls is a stark spark of character that Aziraphale takes in with glee.

Out of the corner of his eye, he notes a roundish stain in the wood of the floor. It’s nothing dramatic, just barely there and faded, but enough to notice. He furrows his brow.

“Bit of a stain there,” he says to Anathema, gesturing at the spot.

Anathama follows his gesture and nods.

“Oh yes, it’s been there quite a while. We’ve had several inspectors check it out and they all assure us it’s just cosmetic. Some spilled water or something, the stain just seems to not want to come out, is all. They tried sanding and refinishing the entire floor but still couldn’t get it to go away. Your home inspector can also take a look at it, just to be sure.”

“Odd, that,” Aziraphale mutters, peering at it for another moment longer. After another brief second, he shakes his head and plasters on a smile, continuing his investigation of the house. 

The foyer that he and Anathema are standing in is small and leads into a short, narrow hall that travels straight back into the kitchen. From his current vantage point, Aziraphale can see the counter and the sink, situated against the far wall beneath a long row of windows. The room all but glows with homey softness, even with all the lights in the house switched off. If he looks closely, he can just see the edge of the pond out back through the windows. He smiles softly and turns his attention to the other rooms off the foyer.

To his left there is a small door to a half bath, and to his right is the living room. He wanders into the latter and looks around. It’s a touch darker in this room, but not by much. The curtains over the windows are sheer ivory, allowing only select beams of sunlight in. There are more places here for shadows to hide, but Aziraphale hardly cares. He eyes the sofa - it doesn’t look new, but it certainly isn’t old, just moderately well-loved; the same for the armchair. There is a small television set, but he doubts he’ll be using it much. Aziraphale drags one hand across the upholstered back of the armchair.

“The furniture, my dear, how old is it?”

“Oh, not very old,” Anathema answers quickly. “We replaced most of it after we acquired the house from the previous owner. That was maybe ten years ago?”

“I see.”

“The master bedroom and bath are upstairs, and there’s a small study up there, as well. We actually left the previous owner’s furniture in the study - it just seemed to be the right fit for the home.”

Aziraphale nods his understanding and tries to suppress looking overly excited about seeing the study. Anathema gestures towards the stairs.

“After you.”

Aziraphale ascends the stairs slowly - drags his hand with care along the length of the wooden banister, reveling in its sturdiness and craftsmanship. He wonders what wood was used to build it - though he admits he doesn’t know anything about architecture. The upstairs is just as quaint and precise as the downstairs, each room its own entity, isolated but cohesive, and Aziraphale makes to take in each one’s details as best he can.

The study, situated above the kitchen, is ample in size and, much like the rest of the cottage, it is sparsely decorated. Rows and rows of inlaid shelves line the walls of this room, painted white, empty, with so much space for his books. He wonders how all of his books might look on these lovely shelves. On the opposite side of the room is a round window that overlooks the pond and fields on the backside of the house. A stark black desk is situated against the wall beneath it: a perfect reading spot , Aziraphale thinks.

The desk’s dark color stands in flagrant disregard of the room’s otherwise pristine-white aesthetic, but Aziraphale would be lying if he said he didn’t love it (just a little bit). It feels like it belongs, like it has lived here. It feels personable. He steps over to the desk to investigate it. It’s made of solid wood (and no, Aziraphale couldn’t tell you what type), and if he looks closely, he can see tiny scratches littering its surface: remnants of all the work that has been done at it over time. There is a rectangular patch in the middle of the desk where the paint has faded ever so slightly. Aziraphale can’t help but wonder what might have sat atop this desk a decade ago. He lets his fingers flit across its surface for an instant - this desk is well-used, well- loved . It’s perfect. He smiles to himself before turning to Anathema and proceeds to explore the rest of the upstairs.

The bathroom is bright and airy, full of natural light and sunlit warmth. He smiles idly at the thought of basking in a sea of bubbles inside the large clawfoot tub, sipping champagne, and watching the sunset, its colors glistening off the surface of the water. A rather cheesy vision, perhaps, but Aziraphale has never shied away from creature comforts.

The bedroom is rather a bit darker than the bathroom, if only because there aren’t as many windows as some of the other rooms in the home. But despite its shadows and hidden little crevices, as soon as he passes through its doorway, a sense of home and belonging settle atop his shoulders.

Ah yes, this is the place , he thinks.

He eyes the king size bed that stands against the far wall. There are two nightstands on each side of it, and two windows on either side of those. He steps towards it and allows himself to touch the soft, grey duvet with a smile.

“My dear girl, I must say this place is perfect…”

Aziraphale takes a seat on the edge of the bed - it gives under his weight perfectly.

“I was sure you’d love it. It just… has an aura about it that is so very you.”

“I suppose it must because you nailed it, my dear. But please do forgive me if I’m still just a tad taken aback about the price.”

“Ah, yes, well-”

“I mean, a place this size, this well-kept, and fully furnished? It should go for, I don’t know, at least £500,000 and yet it’s…”

Far below that, yes,” Anathema finishes for him.  

“I’m a touch amazed that someone else hasn’t scooped this place up already.”

“Well, I mean… Since the firm acquired it ten years ago, we’ve had some renters, but they never seem to stay for long. As for the potential buyers, well…”

“If you’ll forgive my bluntness: what’s the catch? Perfect setting, a water feature, fully furnished, and less than £300,000? I don’t mean to be a cynical old goose but it seems just a bit Too Good To Be True...”

“Well, I suppose now is as good a time as any, but I do have to disclose that there was a death in the home - somewhat recently. Tends to… scare some buyers off.”

“A death?”

“Yes. A previous owner, I think. My mother would know more about it, I just know an owner passed here some time ago.”

“Is that how your group came in possession of the house?”

Anathema nods.

“Yes, as far as I’m aware, we acquired the estate after his passing.”

Aziraphale’s eyes drop from hers, fixing his gaze on the floor.

“I see.”

“I absolutely understand if that’s something you aren’t comfortable with - most people aren’t, so it’s really no trouble. I have plenty of other places I can show you.”

Aziraphale lets out a low breath and dares another look around the room. He sprawls his hand across the duvet with fondness. He shakes his head.

“No,” He starts, turning his head back to face Anathema, “No, I rather think I’d like to move forward with this home.”

Anathema looks visibly surprised, but she smiles and lifts her shoulders a bit.

“Oh, well, that’s wonderful. Let’s… let’s get to the paperwork, shall we?”

::

Like any home purchase, the paperwork, the finances, and all the nitty-gritty details take a couple of weeks to settle. And whether Aziraphale likes to admit it or not, he spends each day of those weeks anxiously awaiting the moment when Anathema will give him his key and tell him the cottage is all his.

By the time it’s time to move, Aziraphale is all but chomping at the bit. He has no furniture that needs to be moved, but he’d still made sure to call a local moving company to assist him with the numerous boxes of books, clothes, and knickknacks he’d so delicately packed (not to mention whatever food items were left over in his kitchen). And so, by mid-morning, his London apartment is free of his belongings, and by late-afternoon, the cottage (now His Cottage) is home to a dozen personal boxes and one rather contented Aziraphale.

He spends most of the afternoon arranging his clothes into the closets and bureaus, as well as finding proper little homes for all of the various curios he’s accumulated over the years, and before he even realizes it, the day has gotten away from him. He elects to leave organizing his books in the study for tomorrow - it’s a task he knows will take him a while, and for now he’s rather hungry and the sun is setting, bathing the rooms in pink and shadow.

With a stretch, Aziraphale heads downstairs to the kitchen to forage for a snack and some tea. The house, he notes, looks rather… different in the evening, but he supposes that most homes do. Instead of the radiant warm light from the sun, the shadows now creep through the hallways like slithering snakes, filling up the spaces where the light had once lived. Aziraphale doesn’t like to admit it, but this new, isolated darkness does give him a momentary pause as he descends the stairs and makes his way into the kitchen. He doesn’t mind the dark, but he’s sure that this countryside darkness will take some getting used to. After all, he’d spent most of his adult life living in a small apartment above a busy bookstore in SoHo. Light was a never-ending force in the city: always present wherever the people were. But here in the country, the light comes and goes only with the sun and the flick of the light switches.

It’s just the dark, don’t be so silly , Aziraphale tells himself as he hurries himself into the kitchen.

And if he flicks on one too many lights in the house than he strictly needs, well, that’s no one’s business but his own.

He fills the kettle with water and plops it on the stove, glad for the metallic clange it makes when he does. It’s nice to break the quiet a little bit. Flicking the flame on, Aziraphale allows his eyes to wander across the kitchen. There’s a nice, long sill under the windows above the sink and counter - he’d quite like to grab a couple greeneries and place them there. Perhaps a nice flower vase; he could wander the fields out back and pick some of the wildflowers out there, really would make the place feel a little more his.

What a silly thought: the place is his. Aziraphale smiles to himself and lets his gaze fall to the floor with a chuckle.

His grin, however, is short-lived. Because, on the floor to his left, there is another round water stain. It’s not as large as the first one, no, but it’s there nonetheless. Why hadn’t he noticed this before? The home inspector hadn’t mentioned it either. He takes another quick glance at the kettle, then back down to the floor. He steps away from the stove and kneels beside the stain, dragging his fingers across the wood.

It’s dry to the touch and its texture feels no different than the rest of the finished floorboards, but it is most certainly there.

Aziraphale huffs.

A small tapping, like the steady drip, drip, drip of water, sounds off from the foyer, yanking Aziraphale’s attention up and away from the stain. He straightens himself up and steps towards the hall to the foyer. All the lights are on, shadows chased away by their brightness, and yet Aziraphale still feels a hint of trepidation as he approaches. It shouldn’t, but he feels as though he were walking a bit into the void.

The tapping drip continues, growing louder, as Aziraphale enters the foyer. He scans the area, looking for any sources of water or leakage, but he finds none. He takes a few quick steps towards the living room, but finds the sound of the tapping grows fainter in there. Same for the bathroom off the foyer. He meanders back to the center and stands in front of the door, just beside the original floor stain. He kneels by it, as he had for the one in the kitchen, and investigates it. It too is dry, but he could swear it’s larger now than it was before.

“What on earth…”

The kettle begins to scream back in the kitchen.

“Shoot!” Aziraphale says and stands, trotting back into the kitchen and flicking off the flame.

As he makes his tea, he listens again for the sound of the drip, but is met with only silence.

He really must call his home inspector…

With his biscuits and his tea ready, Aziraphale attempts to shake himself of his nerves. He ensures the front door is locked (though who might bother him out here is yet to be seen) and heads back upstairs. He meanders into the bedroom, but stumbles over an errant box left in the middle of the room. It’s a minor miracle that he drops neither his tea nor his biscuits on the hardwood floor, and he shoots the offending box an irritated glare.

He sets his drink and snack down onto one of the nightstands and goes back to the box. The outside labels read STUDY in loud, bold letters. Aziraphale sighs. One of the movers must have mistakenly left it here instead, though how they missed that very clear label, Aziraphale surely doesn’t know.

“Alright, come on now,” He mutters to the box as he manhandles it up off the floor. Judging by its weight, he knows it’s filled to the brim with books, and really he only has himself to blame for the way his arms struggle to hold it as he shuffles to the study. He flips the lightswitch on with his shoulder as he passes it and drops the box unceremoniously atop the black desk with a grunt.

“Oof, heavy bugger.”

He lets himself stare out the window for a brief moment. The moonlight glistens off the top of pond water - so still and serene, just a piece of smooth glass laid across a field. He wonders if there are any fish in it; he imagines there must be. With a low sigh, Aziraphale shakes his head and turns to leave. But before he has even made it a foot past the doorway, he stops still. A flash of something red in his periphery captures his attention. Aziraphale angles his head towards the far wall, his gaze settling on one of the inlaid bookshelves. On the middle shelf of the far wall sits a neat row of identical dark red book spines. He furrows his brow and approaches the otherwise empty shelves.

“Huh… Where the heaven did you gents come from?” He ponders at the books.

He certainly hadn’t noticed them when he had first toured the home with Anathema, nor had he noticed them today during his unpacking. But then again, it isn’t totally out of character for him to be just a touch unobservant, perhaps he’d just been too caught up in the move to have noticed them. And so, he actively chooses to not be perturbed by the sudden appearance of an entirely new row of books in his home.

Plus, he’s hardly one to complain about having a few new texts to add to his ever-expanding collection.

There are only about fifteen total books on the shelf. Aziraphale drags reverent, curious fingers across each of the spines and leans in close to investigate them. The font on each one is plain and black - all identical to each other, much like the identical red material of the books’ exteriors. He notes almost immediately that they all appear to have been written by the same author - someone named A.J. Crowley . Aziraphale tilts his head; he can’t say that the name sounds familiar. He skims the titles.

 

A Question of Heaven. 

In Defense of the Devil. 

An Angel in Hell. 

Demonic Conscience.

A Place Beyond the Pit. 

Tadfield Manor: A Ghost Story.

The Downward Spiral.

As well as a few others.

Aziraphale hums. Mr. (and he doesn’t know why he assumes this person to be a mister, but something tells him that he’s right) Crowley appears to enjoy writing about heavenly and/or demonic matters. It’s not a subject that Aziraphale has ever personally had much interest in, but he finds himself rather drawn to these titles, despite himself. He lets his fingers hover over The Downward Spiral . He slips it off the shelf and turns it over in his hands. The front is just as plain as the spine - soft, red material with bold, dark letters imprinted on it. He’s more than a little disappointed to find the back cover completely empty - no summary, no comments, not even a printer’s logo, just empty red. If he had to guess, he’d say the book was likely self-published.

He can only wonder what it might be about. Fiction? Theology? Philosophy? Hard to say. He flips the book open to the dedication page and reads it to himself.

Not for you, but in spite of you: I have not been deterred.

“Well then,” Aziraphale murmurs to the book, intrigue palpable in his voice, “Why don’t we give you a look-over?”

He takes another look out the study window - there are ripples on the top of the pond now. Something must live there, he’s sure of it.

::

Aziraphale settles into bed and gives his tea a long sip - it’s grown tepid by now, but it’s good enough for the time being. He thumbs through the first through pages and realizes two things quite quickly: one, the book is (presumably) a work of fiction, and two, Mr. Crowley is a rather gifted writer, skilled with his prose and precise with his words. 

The Downward Spiral , in so far as Aziraphale has gathered, seems to be the tale of an angel and a demon who met thousands of years ago and against all odds, have grown rather attached to each other. And perhaps have fallen a little bit in love with each other. And who are more than willing to fight and die for each other.

It doesn’t take long before Aziraphale is engrossed in the story, turning page after page of the novel as he’s curled up in bed. He is enraptured by the idea of these two entities battling the forces of Heaven and Hell just to protect each other. It’s all rather poetic, really. And it certainly does appeal itself to Aziraphale that Mr. Crowley has elected to portray these two entities as two males. It’s hard enough to find literature that caters to his picky sensibilities (his collection is extensive if only because he’s spent years curating it), and it’s even more difficult to find literature that caters to both his picky sensibilities and his sexuality.

Before he knows it, Aziraphale has raced through over two thirds of the book. He reaches for his tea to swallow down its final sip, but catches sight of the time on the clock with a startle.

“Oh gracious,” he mutters tiredly, slipping his glasses off his face and rubbing his eyes. The bedside clock glows a harsh 00:23 and Aziraphale acknowledges that he might have stayed up a hair past his usual bedtime.

“Best put you down for the evening, my dear,” he tells the book. His fingers hover at the corner of the page, ready to dog-ear his place, but something gives him pause. Something in the back of his mind tells him: Mr. Crowley wouldn’t appreciate you doing that to his book.

Aziraphale smirks to himself.

“Quite right. Rather silly of me to even consider.”

He places his index finger between the pages and stands from the bed, looking around the room for something to use as a bookmark. He settles on a discarded receipt from the movers and tucks it safely between the pages.

“There we are, darling,” he says to no one in particular, “no harm done.”

He settles the book on his nightstand and flicks off the bedside lamp. He settles up under the comforter of his new bed with a long, tired huff. It’s a rather plush bed, and very cozy, and with another low sigh, he thinks that he might have finally found a place that truly feels like home.

And if he hears a faint thumping from somewhere in the house as he drifts off to sleep, well, that’s a worry for another day.

::

As much as Aziraphale loves his books, he must admit that packing and unpacking them is a very unfortunate chore. But it is a chore that must be done. It takes him far longer than he would like to admit: Aziraphale is particular about his books. They all have their proper spaces and homes, and ensuring their correctness on his shelves is tantamount to their happiness. And well, if it takes a little longer too because he keeps getting distracted by A.J. Crowley’s minimal catalog, then so be it.

And get distracted he does. It takes an entire four hours just to shelve his own collection, if only because he keeps finding himself picking up different books from Crowley’s collection and flipping through their pages idly. The book from the evening before is still waiting for him at his bedside, ready to be finished, and yet this mysterious author’s minimal collection continues to fascinate him. Books on angels, and demons, and ghosts abound in Crowley’s repertoire and Aziraphale longs, for reasons he cannot fully explain, to read each and every one of them. 

Once he finally has his own books properly shelved, Aziraphale allows himself a moment with another of Crowley’s texts. He slips A Question of Heaven from its slot on the shelf and plops down at the desk. He turns the book over and over in his hands. This isn’t a mass market book, certainly no. And Aziraphale wonders, if only for a moment, if perhaps he is one of but a handful of people in the world to have laid eyes on these texts. He thinks back to the portion of The Downward Spiral he’d read the evening before. There is such care in Crowley’s writing, such consideration and poise tucked away into his prose; Aziraphale is sure the book could have been a raging success had it ever seen the proper light of day.

Curiosity gets the better of him. He fishes his phone out of his pocket and does what any sensible human being would do: he googles Crowley’s name.

But he finds very little.

Well, not even ‘very little’. In truth, he finds precisely nothing . He's more than a little disappointed.

He sighs and sets his phone face-down on the desk. He will have to phone Anathema tomorrow and ask. Perhaps she knows more about this fellow. 

“Tea is probably best right now,” he mumbles to himself.

A loud, echoing thunk cries out from downstairs.

::

Upon investigation, Aziraphale finds that his tea kettle, which had been so precisely placed on the stove top, has somehow careened onto the kitchen floor.

“Oh, bother,” he whispers to himself, picking up the empty kettle and dusting it off. At least it wasn’t full, he certainly isn’t in the mood to mop up any messes.

He brings the kettle to the sink and fills it, watching idly out the window as the sun begins to fade across the horizon. The sunsets are always so lovely here - he really must take that sunset bubble bath sometime soon. He places the kettle on the stove and hums softly to himself, some far-away tune that he doesn’t quite recognize. He wonders why he knows it.

As he flicks on the gas flame, a low series of thumps begin to sound off from behind him. They’re soft, almost like footsteps or like fingers tapping on his wall. His breath catches in his throat and he lifts his head, forcing his eyes to focus on the scene beyond the window.

But the sun is almost all the way set and the kitchen is becoming further bathed in darkness, save for the minimal light of the bulb above the sink. As the sunlight dwindles, so does his view of the outside world, replaced instead by the smeared glass reflection of his own face. He focuses on his eyes, vehemently ignoring the thumping coming from the hall behind him.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Rhythmic, like a heartbeat, like a forward march.

The sun is gone now and all that is left is the dark and his reflection. Aziraphale clenches his eyes and exhales a shuddering breath.

“You’re being ridiculous…”

He needs to turn the lights on in the foyer.

He cannot seem to move.

There’s nothing in the hallway, there is nothing in the foyer, there is nothing behind him, and he knows that. But it’s dark and it’s the country, and all the little sounds and all the little shadows like to play tricks on the mind. He can hear the water in the kettle beginning to heat and bubble; he forces his eyes open, but keeps his gaze unfocused on the reflection in front of him.

Something moves in the darkness just over his reflection’s shoulder. A figure, shadowed and dark, there but not really there.

He gasps softly, refuses to focus his eyes on whatever it is he thinks he sees.

The thumping has stopped. And he’s too afraid to turn around. 

Something heavy and dark settles over him, a pressing weight bearing down on his shoulders. The figure in the reflection doesn’t move.

Aziraphale forces himself to swallow the lump that has grown in his throat. The kettle is close to boiling, he’s more than aware of that. But he clears his throat and begins to speak into the darkness behind him.

“...H-hel-”

His voice is cut off by the abrupt, angry whistle of the tea kettle. And just like that, the moment is past. He yanks his eyes back down to the stove and flicks off the flame. The tight, oppressive weight on his chest lifts, the darkness behind him doesn’t seem so dark, and when he looks back into his reflection in the mirror, there nothing lurking in the shadows behind him.

Aziraphale shakes his head and yanks a teacup from the cupboard.

“You’re being ridiculous , you silly man. One night in the country and you’re already going a little spare...”

The sun has set, the kitchen is dim, and Aziraphale pours his tea.

“It’s just the dark.”

::

Aziraphale finds himself, the following morning, sitting at the black desk in the study, phone to his ear, waiting for Anathema to answer. It’s early still - just barely 8 o’clock, so she might not even be in the office yet, but -

“Device and Pulsifer Real Estate, this is Anathema, how can I help you?”

“Anathema! My dear girl, good morning, this is-”

“Aziraphale?”

“Well, yes, how’d you know?”

“Not a single other client has ever referred to me as “dear girl”, you’re pretty easy to identify,” She tells him with a low laugh.

“Ah, right, yes.”

“Anyway, what can I do for you? You all unpacked yet?”

“Oh yes, I’ve made myself quite at home.”

“Well, I should hope so, it’s your home now.”

“My dear, I was wondering if perhaps,” Aziraphale pauses, tongue poking out of his mouth to lick his lips, “Do you know anything about someone named Crowley?”

“Crowley?”

“Yes, an A.J. Crowley?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Well, it’s a bit of a strange story, but I found these books in the cottage…”

“Books?”

“Yes, some books,” Aziraphale clarifies, “red ones, in the study. They were just… on the shelves - I must say I don’t precisely recall them being there when I toured, but perhaps I just overlooked them…”

Anathema pauses and clears her throat.

“I don’t remember there being books in the study either… Maybe the decorator found them and added them?”

“Regardless, they’re here, and they’re all written by this same A.J. Crowley fellow. I looked him up on the internet, but I can’t seem to find anything about who he might be. I’m guessing he wasn’t a mass-published author, but I thought perhaps he might be a previous owner?”

“Hmm,” Anathema lilts, “I don’t recall the name off the top of my head, but I can probably find out. Let me check some of our records and, assuming none of it is confidential information, I’ll give you a ring back, okay?”

“Of course, dear.”

Aziraphale waits for perhaps an hour before he resigns himself to the fact that he might not hear from Anathema for a while yet. He figures now would be a good enough time to run into town and pay the grocer a proper visit.

::

Anathema doesn’t call by the time Aziraphale returns home, but she does, however, text him as he’s unloading his groceries onto the counter.

“Okay if I swing by later? Might be better to discuss in person. - A.”

Aziraphale furrows his brow. Doesn’t seem to him like this should be a conversation that needs to be had in person, but if Anathema insists…

“Of course, I’ll leave the door unlocked.” He texts back.

::

Anathema, bless her kindness, still knocks upon her arrival, despite knowing that the door is unlocked.

“Good afternoon, dear girl,” Aziraphale greets her, ushering her into the kitchen and down at the small dinette table. “Tea?”

“Please.”

Aziraphale nods and busies himself with the kettle.

“I’ll admit, I’m surprised you wanted to come by. Rather thought it could be discussed over the phone.”

“I thought you might appreciate it more in person…” She tells him. There is a hint of hesitancy to her voice that Aziraphale catches almost instantly.

“Well, enlighten me, did you find anything regarding our mysterious Mr. Crowley?”

“Yes… Why don’t you sit down?”

Aziraphale finishes readying two cups and settles down at the table across from Anathema. She steeples her hands together and fixates her gaze on Aziraphale.

“So I want to preface this by saying I don’t want you to freak out.”

Aziraphale’s forehead tightens.

“Well that’s not exactly a stress-free preamble.”

“I did manage to find a little information about this Crowley guy. Not a lot, but significant enough that I felt we needed to have a face to face conversation.”

“Alright.”

“So Crowley - well, his name was Anthony J. Crowley - he was a previous owner. He actually owned the home just prior to our firm acquiring it, about 11 years ago. My mother probably would’ve recognized his name if you’d asked her since she was around then... Uh, he lived here for maybe 8 years? I even managed to find a picture of him in our files.”

Anathema slides a small photocopied picture across the table. Aziraphale eyes it cautiously.

"Are you even allowed to show me a photo of him? One might think that would be protected."

"Well, that's what I'm getting to," she assures, gesturing at the photo. Aziraphale slides it closer to him with one curious finger.

It’s a bit blurry, but Aziraphale can make out the man’s features well enough. He’s angular and lithe in appearance, and very handsome, if Aziraphale is honest. Fire-red hair like he’d strutted straight through hell itself, high cheekbones, sharp chin, mouth a hardened but smarmy line. On his temple, there a small, curving tattoo of what Aziraphale thinks is a snake. He smirks a little himself - yes, he rather likes that. Crowley is wearing sunglasses in his photo but his eyebrows are perked just above their rims, and Aziraphale can’t help but wonder what his eyes look like. He bets they were quite expressive. Perhaps even bright. Tawny eyes would suit him.

“Crowley co-owned this place with another fellow named Gabriel. I’m assuming a partner maybe?”

Aziraphale doesn’t say anything, but the name jostles something uncomfortable in the pit of his stomach. He ignores the feeling, nods, and takes a long sip of his too-hot tea as Anathema clears her throat.

“You remember I mentioned there was a death in the house?”

That gives him pause, enough so that he coughs around the edge of his cup.

“No, surely you’re not saying that he…”

“Yes, unfortunately.” Anathema’s shoulders tighten. “He was young, too. Mid-thirties. I guess he’d be about your age now… I couldn’t find anything about him being a writer, but maybe it was just a hobby.”

“I can certainly show you the books, if you like,” Aziraphale points upwards to where the study sits just above their heads. Anathema follows his gesture with curious eyes, staring vaguely at the ceiling for a silent moment. Her brow grows tight as she gazes upwards, head tilting slightly. Aziraphale certainly doesn’t want to read too far into her expression, but it’s difficult not to - she looks almost concerned.

“What happened to him?” Aziraphale asks, if only to regain her attention.

Anathema’s gaze snaps back down and meets Aziraphale’s eyes. She shakes her head, seemingly cleansing herself of whatever concerns had darkened her face just a moment before.

“Well, it’s not super clear in the records but from what little I could find, it would seem that he…” she pauses and lowers her voice, as though it were something she shouldn’t be saying aloud to the house, “...he drowned… in the pond out back.”

Aziraphale’s hand darts to his neck, fingers clutching at his collar.

“Gracious, drowned ??”

Anathema nods.

"That's horrific," Aziraphale whispers, more to himself than to his guest. He turns his head to gaze out the kitchen window. The pond is still. Surely it can’t be that deep - is it even deep enough to swim in?

“Yeah, like I said, it was 11 years ago so it’s hard to find information on it, especially since this is such an isolated area.”

“Well, what about Gabriel? Wouldn’t he have maintained ownership of the estate?”

“Theoretically, yes. But… after Crowley passed, Gabriel just… disappeared. I mean, literally, just off the face of the Earth… Official records list him as presumed dead. He’s just gone...” She chuckles an unsteady, uneasy chuckle. “Died of a broken heart, maybe?”

A flash of hot, indignant anger and disgust flairs in his chest, for reasons he can’t fully explain.

No, that’s certainly not it .

He doesn’t know why he thinks it.

Aziraphale drags an uneasy hand across his mouth, his eyes darting away from Anathema’s and staring at the far wall.

A heaving weight settles atop Aziraphale’s shoulders as a profound silence falls between them. Around him, the cottage seems to throb. In an instant, he can feel it everywhere, can feel this house aching within his bones. He glances around the room, taking in the slivers of light filtering through the window, and the shadows the light creates, long and profound across the floor and within the corners where the light cannot touch. Something is wrong here.

Forlorn.

Aziraphale’s chest tightens for a brief instant, another overwhelming sense of pain and sorrow creeping over him in its grip. He wants to…. He doesn’t know what he wants… He wants to express his condolences? His sadness? Speak his sympathy to the house for what has happened? But he knows that’s rather silly.

It’s just a house. And people die. People always die. This case isn’t inherently special or different, and Aziraphale knows that.

He gazes out the window at the pond. It’s as still as ever. Aziraphale shakes his head and turns his gaze back to Anathema.

“Do you know… how exactly it happened or…?”

Anathema shakes her head.

“No. Like I said, our records are pretty limited… We just have the basics, really. All I know is that he drowned.”

Aziraphale says nothing but gives her a very slow nod.

“I see… I thought, well, I don’t know. I thought when you said ‘death’ you meant… some old chap passed away in his sleep. Not… not this.”

Not something so untimely. Not something so… unjust.

“I know, I understand. If I had known, I would have told you, I swear. And we can always… reassess your contract, if you want, or… just work on putting the place up for sale again? I definitely understand this might change some things for you.”

Aziraphale doesn’t respond immediately, but he turns his head to stare at the kitchen sink and out the window. The afternoon sun has begun to fade, it’ll be growing dark soon. He imagines, for a split second, an image of Crowley standing at that very sink all those years ago. Washing a dish. Rinsing vegetables for dinner. Or simply staring out the window across the verdant landscape. He pictures him at the lakeside, wandering its perimeter in the midday sun. But Aziraphale’s vision of him is blurry, a piecemeal mental figment Aziraphale has created from the photo Anathema had showed him earlier.

He can’t fully explain the feeling roiling inside his gut. Uneasiness and fear claw at him from the inside out, the awful heaviness of whatever on Earth he had felt in this very kitchen just the night before. It’s silly, and Aziraphale knows it. This place is just a house, and there’s no place for a suspicious old fool in it. And yet, despite his silent protestations, the feeling remains.

But he can’t help but note that somewhere within him, coiling around his unease and anxiety, there is something else . Something warm. Something fond and familiar. Something that seems rather… important . Aziraphale doesn’t know what to make of it. In his mind’s eye, he imagines Crowley moving back and forth across the kitchen, digging into the refrigerator, sitting down at the table, scribbling notes in a notebook. He thinks of the row of Crowley’s books on the shelves upstairs, and of the book on his nightstand, still waiting to be finished. 

Something whispers to him then, just there in the back of his mind, a quiet voice, much lower than his own. It all but pleads with him:

Don’t leave .

“I,” Aziraphale starts, clearing his throat and adjusting himself in his chair, “I don’t think we need to reassess anything, my dear.”  

::

Chapter Text

Aziraphale thinks that if he’s ever earned a luxurious bubble bath, he’s earned one tonight. He’d bid Anathema farewell a couple hours ago, as the afternoon began to wane,into early evening. By now, the day is almost gone, and the sunset is looming, twilight beginning to linger in the air. He lights a few candles, but keeps the main bathroom lights on still, not willing yet to bathe himself in darkness.

He brings Crowley’s book with him and settles into the bubbly water, basking in its warmth. The sun has begun to set and the bathroom is aglow with oranges, reds, and pinks, sprawling across all tiles and walls. Aziraphale turns his attention away from Crowley’s book and rests his head on the back edge of the tub.

How many times did you watch the sunset from this tub, dear? Or did you prefer the sunrises? 

The thought is there and gone again before Aziraphale can stop himself. He wonders so much about Crowley. What music did he like? What brand were his favorite shoes? What inspired his tattoo? (He wishes Crowley could tell him. So many stories Aziraphale will never hear. So many facts he will never know.)

Did he prefer to be called Anthony? Tony? Jay? Or did he simply prefer to be called by his last name, as so many do? Crowley . Yes. Aziraphale thinks that’s the name. He doesn’t know why it feels right, but it does. It is right and proper and seems to fit.

“Crowley…” He whispers into the silent bathroom, just to see how the name tastes.

It feels right.

It feels familiar. A name he was always supposed to say.

Aziraphale sighs, shakes his head, and begins to read again.

Crowley’s prose is beautiful and engaging, and he reads with the same engrossed swiftness he had the night before. Aziraphale has just gotten to the place in the book where the angel has decided to forego heaven in order to be with his demon. God, Herself, has told him he will fall from grace if this what he chooses, and Aziraphale smiles serenely as the angel steels himself before his creator and tells Her he would fall a thousand times over if it meant staying with the demon he treasures.

Oh, to have a love a worth life and limb like this, to have a love in which the world ceased to matter in its presence as it does with this angel and this demon; Aziraphale thinks it would be rather fulfilling.

He sighs and places his bookmark, electing to finish the rest in bed later.

“You should have been published, my dear…” Aziraphale muses to the house, (perhaps even to Crowley, as though he might could hear him), “This book would have been adored.”

He sets the book aside on the floor where it won’t get wet and sinks down further into the bath. Try as he might to resist, though, Aziraphale finds himself growing rather tired. The sun is almost gone and his eyes slip closed as he begins to drift off, a light tapping from somewhere in the house lulling him into sleep.

...

“Honestly, I don’t understand why you waste your time with this… this hobby.”

“Because I fucking like to do it? Isn’t that enough?”

Aziraphale’s head feels rather fuzzy. He pries his eyes open and takes in his surroundings - is this his house? Everything is a bit hazy, a layer of fine fog filling the room; but despite the fog, Aziraphale realizes quickly that he’s no longer in the bathroom. Instead, he is seated, fully clothed, at the black desk in the study. There is a type writer in front of him with a page of half-written text on it. Aziraphale leans in to read it, squinting, but he can’t seem to make out the words. He looks around the room instead. His eyes land on the bookshelves: there are a myriad of books, but he recognizes none of them as him own. In fact, the only familiar spines are the dark red ones that he knows to be Crowley’s.

Voices carry from the first floor, muffled as they travel up the stairs and to his ears. They sound angry - upset - the voices of an argument. He stands slowly and takes long, arduous steps out of the study, to the top of the stairs, and down them, all the while the voices continue to argue.

“Be real, Crowley, it’s not like anyone’s ever going to publish you.”

“You haven’t read a goddamn thing I’ve ever written so how the fuck would you know?”

“I don’t need to read it to know it’s worthless.”

Aziraphale cringes at those words. They’re so harsh, so angry, so full of disdain that it all but makes him sick. He closes his eyes and steels himself. He reaches the bottom of the stairs - his entire house is filled with the fog, each and every area masked in its whiteness. The voices are louder here, their argument continuing, but Aziraphale cannot see them.

This isn’t real, he resigns, it’s just a dream. It must be.

“So what, Gabriel?” Crowley’s voice admonishes from somewhere next to him. Aziraphale jerks his head towards the sound, but sees no one, “Who fucking cares? I like to do it, why does that fucking bother you?”

“Because it’s a waste of time!” Shouts the voice from somewhere near the kitchen. “You spend all your time in that goddamn study, hunched over that fucking typewriter, churning out garbage when you should be with me.”

“Fuck you, Gabriel. You don’t own my goddamn time.” There’s a pause, followed by the sound of heavy footsteps and a door opening. It sounds like a closet door, but Aziraphale can’t be sure. He tries to follow the sound, but he can barely see his own feet in this haze, let alone anything else.

“I’m going out,” Crowley’s voice says again, somewhere slightly further away from Aziraphale. It sounds almost like he’s near the door.

Angry footsteps, faster now, growing closer to where Aziraphale is standing in the fogged-out foyer. 

“The hell you are.”

Something icy hot brushes past him and Aziraphale all but cries out.

There is a hiss behind him, near the front door, followed by a muffled grunt and the sound of something hitting the wall.

“Get off me, goddamnit,” Aziraphale hears Crowley grunt.

Another loud slam sounds out, followed by a small shout and the sound of something that sounds like a person tumbling to the floor.

Aziraphale clenches his eyes shut, listening intently as Crowley groans and hisses a low “Fuck you.”, obviously pained.

Aziraphale reaches blindly into the fog, stepping unsurely in the film, fumbling and trying to find Crowley. Is the door this way? Or is he heading towards the kitchen? He can’t be sure, the mist is far too overwhelming.

“Crowley??” He tries to call out, but his voice is gone, absent, silent. His vocal cords refuse to work. He tries again anyway. “Crowley?!”

But there is only silence.

The fog lingers. The quiet surrounds him.

Aziraphale is alone.

...

Aziraphale’s eyes shoot open as the tub water begins to creep into his nose. He startles awake, quickly realizing he must have dozed off and slipped down a bit into the bath. He looks around the bathroom, sleepy confusion still heavy in his mind.

The house is silent, the bathroom is awash in the bright fluorescent lights he’d made sure to turn on. He’d half-expected the room to be filled with fog, but it’s clear as a crystal, pristine and sharp beneath the artificial lights.

Out the window, darkened evening has claimed the landscape.

Aziraphale groans, slipping his cupped hands into the water, and splashes some of the now-tepid bathwater onto his face. He sighs and brushes the water from his skin, shoulders slouching a little as he tries not to think of whatever it was he’d just dreamt. The bath is all but cold now - it’s time to get out.

He stands from the tub, dries off, and begins his bedtime ritual - methodical, precise, ritualistic so perhaps he won’t have to think of his dream.

He thinks about his dream anyway.

Aziraphale has never enjoyed arguing - always a quiet type, not one to ruffle feathers. Raised voices, bickering, shouting, even vague threats: it reminds him all too much of the family he’d once known. But even that couldn’t explain the upset that was churning deep in his gut each time he thought of Crowley’s pained grunts and hissed arguments.

Aziraphale scoffs. How ridiculous of him to assign any of what he’d dreamt to this author. It was a dream, and nothing more. He shakes his head.

“You’re a silly man,” he tells him in the mirror. “It’s just your silly little brain making up stories.”

It’s just his brain trying to fill in the spaces between the information he has.

The reality - the real reality - is that he knows nothing of Crowley. Crowley is a name on the shelf, the inflection of a book, a blurred photograph of a man in sunglasses. Aziraphale doesn’t know his voice, nor the color of his eyes, nor the things that used to make him smile.

And yet…

And yet.

He thinks of the book on his nightstand, its wistful prose, it’s story that has so immediately captured Aziraphale’s heart. He thinks of how quickly this voice has wriggled its way into his chest to the point where he’d all but apologized to an empty house because he thought about dog-earing the corner of a page.

He thinks of Crowley’s dedication - so pointed, so hardened:

Not for you, but in spite of you: I have not been deterred.

It’s silly to think, but he cannot shake the thought that perhaps his heart has tuned into this man more deeply than he would like to admit. Perhaps a dream isn’t just a dream.

Aziraphale sighs and scrubs at his hair with a towel, tossing it onto the bathroom counter with a huff.

“You’re ridiculous,” he tells himself, and leaves the bathroom without another word. 

::

Aziraphale doesn’t read anymore of Crowley’s book that night.

He doesn’t dream that night again, either.

::

Aziraphale wakes to the sound of water dripping.

The sound that rouses him is hollow, like knocking on a door or the thrum of a heartbeat. It’s quiet, but just loud enough that he blinks into consciousness at its beckoning. With bleary eyes, Aziraphale glances around his room.

It’s very early morning still: it must be, judging by the minimal light filtering in through the bedroom windows - and even the birds have yet to begin their songs. The only sound in the house is the slow, low, persistent drip.

Aziraphale uncovers himself and stands from the bed. He snags his robe from the foot of the bed and slips it on with care, listening intently for the sound of the drip. It continues with surety, constant and steady and growing louder once Aziraphale has left his bedroom. The hall to the study is dark in the early morning, the light not yet strong enough to fill the space. There is a sort of misty haze to it, in this dim, grey light, and Aziraphale - resist as he might - cannot help but be reminded of his dream the previous evening.

The dripping continues, but Aziraphale can think only of the way Crowley’s voice had sounded in his dream.

He approaches the study, tightening his robe around himself as a chill creeps over him. He pauses just outside the closed door to the study. Had that  been closed last night? He must have closed it, though he isn’t sure why he would do that. The dripping is loud and noticeable here, louder than it was back in his bedroom, but no matter where he looks, he can find no sign of water or leakage. It is just the noise and -

Aziraphale looks to the floor just outside the study.

He doesn’t mean to, but a soft gasp catches in his throat. Even in the dim light of the hall, he can see it: a small, round water stain, no larger than his hand but stark in the way it has removed the deep color of the wood. He shakes his head slightly and drops to his knees beside it. This one was not here before - Aziraphale can say that with absolute, unquestionable certainty. He touches the spot and, much like the others, it is dry beneath his fingers.

In front of him, the door to the study clicks and creaks, opening inwards to the room and sending Aziraphale tumbling backwards in a quick fit of panic.

Aziraphale has never been one swear, but he maintains that there are certain instances in which profanity is not only acceptable, but downright necessary. For example: right now. 

“Jesus, fuck ,” He pants, staring at the now cracked door to the study. He waits - for god knows what - still as ever as he stares at the partially ajar door. He is too afraid in this moment to move, to scramble away, to do anything . But nothing else happens. The door doesn’t open more, and the dripping sound has stopped - its absence complete and abrupt to his ears.

Aziraphale huffs out uneven breaths, mouth dry, and forces himself to swallow the fear that has scraped its way up into the back of his throat. He stands slowly. The room is frigid around him, goosebumps prickle across his flesh with it, worsened only by the anxiety that has built in the pit of his stomach. Aziraphale steels him, and in one quick motion, he presses his hand flat to the door of the study and pushes it completely open.

The room beyond the door is brighter than the hall. The sun has risen further into the morning sky and its light is seeping in through the round window, casting vague shadows wherever it cannot reach. But even with the sunlight, the room is icy.

Aziraphale inhales a long, pointed breath and nods to himself, all but forcing himself to step inside.

His eyes scan the room. The shelves are exactly as he left them - every knickknack in its proper place, every spine of every book exactly the way he’d organized them. The chair is tucked neatly under the desk, exactly as he had left it, and the desk is emp-

Aziraphale’s train of thought stops in its tracks, his eyes halting as soon as they take in the desk. Aziraphale approaches it with slow, careful steps, never taking his eyes off it.

Atop the desk, sitting neatly in the middle of it, is one of Crowley’s red-bound books.

“What the…” Aziraphale hisses, leaning over the desk and snatching the book into his hand. He flips it over so he can see the title: A Place Beyond the Pit.

“What the fuck,” Aziraphale says, the swear slipping out again before he can stop himself.

He opens the book to investigate it, flipping past the title page and stopping on the dedication page, much as he had for The Downward Spiral .

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

And just like that, all the fear and anxiety Aziraphale had felt just a moment before is gone. It is replaced instead by a thick, full drop of unspeakable sadness. His brow softens a little as he stares at the page - his throat is so tight, his eyes feeling a bit prickly as he looks at it, when had that happened?

He drags his fingers across the black text, caressing the page with care, with comfort, as if the touch might somehow sooth the angst that this single sentence conveys. It is far too heavy, far too despondent, and Aziraphale, no matter how he tries to stop it, aches with despair for Crowley.

It’s awfully silly too, he thinks. To feel this sort of sadness for someone he has never met, will never meet, and who is no longer around to experience his own sadness, let alone Aziraphale's, too; it’s all rather pointless. But Aziraphale aches nonetheless. He closes the book and draws it close to his chest. His eyes slip shut as he clings to the book and his thoughts float back to the hazy fog of his dream, to the argument he had imagined he’d heard.

“You haven’t read a goddamn thing I’ve ever written so how the fuck would you know?”

“I don’t have to read it to know it’s worthless!”

Aziraphale shakes his head, sending away the awful words.

“This is not worthless,” he hisses into the silence; he clutches the book like a child to his breast.

The room, Aziraphale notes, grows suddenly warmer.

Aziraphale sighs and looks at the book again with fondness before carefully sliding it into the pocket of his robe.

::

Aziraphale calls his home inspector as soon as he knows their office is open. It is 8:03 in the morning exactly and, judging by the hurried, out of breath sound in Theo’s voice when he answers, Aziraphale is sure he must have just caught him coming in. Standing just outside the study, staring down at the small water stain beneath him, Aziraphale clutches his phone to his face and all but begs Theo to please just come out and take a look at these blasted stains again.

Yes, there are more than one now. Yes he knows that Theo already did a full inspection of the cottage. Yes, of course, he doesn’t mind paying a fee for the visit. Yes, yes, he can wait till the end of the day.

Theo says he has other appointments ahead of him, but promises he will try to come by before evening. And true to his word, he does manage to make it before the day is out - but just barely. The late afternoon sun has already begun to list downward towards the horizon by the time Theo’s van parks outside the cottage.

Aziraphale ushers him inside and shows him each new stain, three in total. There is the original one by the front door (the one that Aziraphale swears is larger now than it had been before), the new one in the kitchen, and the small spot outside the study that had prompted his urgent call. Aziraphale tries his best not to hover as Theo inspects each one, but he can’t help but linger over him, one fingernail between his teeth, as Theo crawls about the floor.

“I’m really not sure what to tell ya, Mr. Fell,” Theo says from where he’s knelt on all fours by the upstairs study. His nose almost pressed into the wood grain of the floor, he analyzes this small stain from a myriad of angles. “It doesn’t look new. It’s not even wet. You got no mold, no damp, no nothing. Hell, it looks like there’s might even be some laquer on top of it, like its been refinished at some point or another…”

Aziraphale pulls his chewed up nail from his mouth.

“But it wasn’t there just last week, you know that.”

Theo grunts and pushes himself back to standing and gestures at the floor.

“I mean, it’s a small spot… Maybe we missed it?”

“And the larger one in the kitchen? We just miss that one too?”

Theo shrugs.

“Like I said, I’m not sure what to tell ya, other than I can assure there’s no worrisome damage. It looks cosmetic, at worst. No mold there, no wetness, the boards don’t seem waterlogged or anything.”

Theo shoots his gaze up to the ceiling, eyes peering all over it, in search of any sort of stains there that might indicate a leak. 

“Have you heard any running water or dripping sounds, anything like that?”

Aziraphale follows his gaze and stares at the ceiling, unsure of what he should look for, and nods his assent to Theo’s question.

“Yes, actually. I’ve heard it a couple times. Downstairs. Once it sounded like it was in the foyer, then this morning, it was right here.”

“You see any water?”

“No, I can never seem to find a source…”

Theo pulls his flashlight off his belt and points it at the ceiling.

“Yeah, I mean, there’s nothin’ up there,” He gestures down to the spot on the floor, then directly back up to the space on the ceiling above it. “If you had a leak, you’d see it, right here above the spot, right? But there’s nothing.”

Aziraphale stares at the undamaged ceiling, free of water, free of stains, and nods his understanding.

“Yes, I see…”

With a low sigh, Theo shoves his flashlight back onto his belt.

“I’m gunna check out the pipes that I can access, okay? Just to make sure we don’t have a sneaky leak or something. Probably take me about 20-30 minutes. Sound good?”

“Of course. I’ll get some tea for us.”

It only takes Theo 15 minutes to do make his way through the house, accessing all the areas where he can reach the pipes. Eventually, he finishes in the kitchen, and removes his head from under the sink, brushing his hands on his pants.

“Clean as a whistle, Mr. Fell,” he says, taking the tea Aziraphale has offered him, “Not a leak to be found, that I can see, at least.”

Aziraphale hmms, more to himself than to Theo, and nods. Theo clears his throat and gestures upwards.

“I even checked up in the attic crawl space, everything looked good.”

“I see,” Aziraphale pauses, “Wait, attic crawl space?”

“Yeah, you got a little crawl space up top. You didn’t know?”

Aziraphale shakes his head.

“No, I had no idea.”

“You access it from it the study, come on, I’ll show you.”

Theo leads him up the stairs and into the study. Crowley’s book feels heavy in his pocket as he enters the room, following Theo’s extended arm pointing towards the ceiling. Sure enough, there is a small door up there with a small round handle on it.

“Usually these things have a string or something tied to it so you can reach, but if you just, ugh,” he jumps a little, snagging the handle, “stretch a little you can get it.” He pulls the ladder down and passes Aziraphale his flashlight. “Take a look, if you want.”

Aziraphale takes the flashlight, clicks it on, and carefully ascends the wobbly ladder so that his head is poking up into the dark space.

“It isn’t big or anything,” Theo says from the study below him, “But you know, if you need some extra storage space, there ya go.”

Aziraphale scans the space with the light - it’s warm up here, and insulation is tucked tightly between all the support beams and boards. It looks like any other crawl space should look. Aziraphale sighs and he’s about to descend the ladder when something in the corner of the space catches his eye. He recenters the flashlight and squints his eyes, trying to see it better.

It looks like a cardboard box.

He half considers mentioning it to Theo, but something in the back of his mind tells him not to. He simply clicks the flashlight off and descends the ladder.

He writes Theo a check for his visit and sees him to the door, and once he has left, Aziraphale all but sprints back up the stairs to the study. He has to jump two or three times to snag the handle of the attic ladder (he really must remember to tie a little rope around that later), but he gets it and clambers up the steps, his phone flashlight his only source of light.

Given that the crawlspace is rather small, the box isn’t particularly far away from the entrance, but it certainly past Aziraphale’s reach. With a grunt, his hauls himself further into the attic and crawls towards the box (thank goodness these aren’t his good trousers, Lord only knows how much dust is getting into the fibers of these pants).

Close enough now that he can grab onto its edge, Aziraphale gives the box a forceful tug, sliding it a bit across the floor. It’s awfully heavy, much heavier than he had expected it to be, and so it takes a decent bit of effort to haul it to the exit and to lift it as he awkwardly carries it down the ladder. Once down the ladder, he plops the box heftily onto the desk. A quick glance out the window tells him the sunset is almost upon him, and so he flicks on the study lights and returns to his procurement.

The box is a bit old and tattered, the cardboard creased and wrinkled with age. The tape across its top is frayed and peeling up at the corners, the adhesive steadily giving up more of itself as time ticks on. Aziraphale gets a fingernail underneath one end and rips it off easily in one swoop.  He eases the flaps open with great care, opening it like a historian might open an ancient, sacred text.

Inside sits a black typewriter with ivory-white keys. Aziraphale’s brow furrows and then relaxes, a tiny little grin sidling its way onto his cheeks. He wedges the heavy machine out of the box, noting a small stack of blank typing paper beneath it, and turns it over in his arms, investigating all sides of it.

It’s not old , per se, because it can tell immediately it’s a more modern mechanical typewriter, rather than a classic one or an electric one. But it certainly isn’t new; if he had to guess, he might say the model was from the 1960s? Maybe the 1970s? The logo on the front reads Smith Corona. His arms are beginning to strain a bit under the weight of the machine, but he wants to look at it closely for just another minute. He isn’t sure what he’s looking for, but he looks nonetheless, and, oh! There.

On the right side of the typewriter, embossed in silver and in beautiful, cursive font are the letters A. J. C.

Aziraphale beams .

“My gosh, this was yours, wasn’t it, love?”

He sets the typewriter down by the edge of the desk for a moment so he can move the box, and his eyes immediately fall to the slightly faded rectangular spot in the middle of the desk. He picks up the typewriter and settles it precisely over that spot, thrilled to see that it fits perfectly over it.

Aziraphale lets out a low, contented sigh, unable to properly explain why he feels such bubbling glee at the sight of this old machine. The weight of Crowley’s book is noticeable in the pocket of his cardigan. He fishes it out and holds it while staring at the typewriter.

“You wrote this right here, didn’t you?”

He takes another glance down at the box and eyes the stack of blank paper and sets the book down on the desk.

“Well, then, let’s see if you still work, shall we?”

As he grabs the paper from the box, something small slips out from between the pages and flutters to the floor. Placing the stack carefully on the desk, Aziraphale crouches down to fish out the item from where it slid up under the chair. He snags it and looks it over - it’s a polaroid.

A photograph of Crowley.

Aziraphale’s chest tightens at the sight of it. Crowley is seated on a couch in a living room that Aziraphale distinctly recognizes as the one in this very cottage. The photograph is illuminated by the classic polaroid flash-white, and Crowley’s form is clear as day. He is smiling a wild, raucous smile, his head thrown back, his mouth wide with laughter. There are no sunglasses on his head this time, but Aziraphale still can’t see his eyes, they’re clutched shut with the intensity of his smile.

He’s in a short sleeve black t-shirt - casual, with his long, pale arms visible - and a pair of tight, black pants. His hair - still so bright and fiery red - is perfectly coiffed, accentuating every sharp angle of his face and body.

Aziraphale doesn’t mean to think it, but he can’t seem to hold the thought back: My god, he’s beautiful.

A wistful smile eases its way onto Aziraphale’s face. He lets his fingers trail lovingly over Crowley’s image. He wishes he knew what he was laughing about in that moment, wishes he knew who his smile was for. Oh, what it must have been to like to make this boy laugh so vivaciously…

Something in the back of his mind tells Aziraphale that Gabriel most likely took this photo… Gabriel most likely was the reason for Crowley’s glee. And with those thoughts, a feeling that Aziraphale definitely doesn’t want to call jealousy boils inside his gut. He shakes his head, ridding himself of the feeling, and focuses his attention back on Crowley.

“Why do I feel like I could know you, dear?” He muses to the photograph. “Has your writing touched me so well?”

How strange it is, he thinks, to miss someone you’ve never met. How very pointless it is to yearn from someone whose time has long since passed.

His eyes grow a bit prickly, and Aziraphale clenches them shut to chase away any traces of sadness that they threaten to harbor. He sets the photograph down carefully to the left of the typewriter, precise in its allignment so that Aziraphale can still look at it if he wants to.

It’s been a while since he’s fiddled with a typewriter (he was always a more skilled reader than he was a writer), but he thinks he remembers how to work the thing. He loads the paper onto the roll and settles down into the desk chair, looking over the keyboard.

TEST

Aziraphale types the word in slow, pecked motions across the keyboard. He grins, thrilled that there at least seems to be some ink left on the carriage. But his smile fades as he realizes he has typed directly in the middle of page. Oh, wait, that’s right, he has to push the return bar and slide the roll over to properly start the line. In his defense, he hasn’t used anything other than a computer in at least twenty years. He wonders idly if Crowley ever wrote on a computer - maybe he just preferred the mechanical touch of a typewriter. Aziraphale can’t say he would blame him - the feeling of it is so right, so proper beneath his fingers.

He pushes the carriage to the right, turns the roller knob on the side to go to the next line, and tries again.

This is a test, I’m typing, hello, hello, good evening.

Aziraphale grins - he absolutely loves the look of this thing, the feel of it, the hard mechanical click of each individual key. Perhaps it’s a bit silly, to be playing with an old typewriter like a child might play with their father’s radio, but he simply couldn’t resist. He shakes his head and chuckles at himself as he leans back in the chair.

He lets his attention drift to the left, settling on the photograph of Crowley. Once again, his reverent fingers drag across its surface.

“How I would have loved to watch you work, dear boy.”

Aziraphale checks his watch - it’s already dark outside, time wasted by all his tinkering here with the typewriter, but it’s still early enough for a proper dinner, tea, and a good reading session.

“Time for a bite, then off to finish your book.”

Aziraphale picks up A Place Beyond the Pit from off of the desk.

“Perhaps I’ll also get to start this one tonight,” he says to the room, gesturing idly with the book in his hands. But the last few chapters of The Downward Spiral are still waiting for him on his nightstand and he’s aching to know whether the angel and demon wind up together in the stars or not. He certainly hopes they do.

Would feel rather… unjust if they didn’t. 

Aziraphale smiles, low and slow, and pats the typewriter, but his hand drifts over to the polaroid of Crowley sitting to its left. His fingers hesitate to touch it for a moment, his desire to pick it up and hold it growing with each passing second. He huffs out a soft breath and lifts the photo from the desk. Trying not to think too hard about his actions, he removes his wallet from his pocket and tucks the photograph within its folds, like one might do for a cherished family member… or a lover.

“For safe-keeping, that’s all,” he mumbles to himself, and even he doesn’t believe himself.

With that, he leaves the room and trots downstairs to the kitchen, flicking on lights as he goes, to make himself dinner.

Upstairs, in the study, the platen on the typewriter clicks and slides to the right. The roller knob turns to a new line.

Precise, determined keys begin to click.

H  E LL  O, T ES T I NG. 

::

Chapter Text

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

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

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

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

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

He sighs and touches the page. 

“My dear, I believe in you.” 

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

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

...

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

The lower being you are looking at is me. 

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

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

If only I could see them. 

...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silly thing, that: yearning for a dead man.

Rather pointless, really. 

::

That night Aziraphale dreams of a boisterous, proud laugh.

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

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

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

“Aziraphale…”

::

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

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

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

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

But it doesn’t.

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

::

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

::

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

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

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

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

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

Aziraphale’s brow creases.

“What… you were…”

Downstairs…

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

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

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

Dread surges in his chest.

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

H  E LL  O, T ES T I NG.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay…” He whispers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

HI.

Aziraphale pauses for a moment, and then adds:

I LIKE YOUR BOOKS.

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

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

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

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

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

(He doesn’t hear anything).

::

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

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

HI. I LIKE YOUR BOOKS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’M LISTENING. 

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

::

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

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

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

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

"Oh, my, yes. And more."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madame Tracy nods and lifts her finger. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

::

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes…

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

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

 

YO U  WO ULD BE THE   FI RSTT.

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

The study has grown as cold as a tomb.

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

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

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

No... This is far too much.

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

He can’t do this.

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

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

He shakes his head.

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

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

He has to make dinner.

::

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

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

“I’m sorry, love…”

::

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

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

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

::

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

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

::

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“S’no trouble.”

::

Chapter Text

Aziraphale, after drifting back into a gentle sleep with Crowley’s image fresh in his brain, slept in a wash of peaceful dreams. Upon waking, he finds the details of those dreams fleeting and fading with each passing moment, but the emotions from the night are deep-seated and thorough. Whatever his dreams had been, they must have been pleasant: peace settles deep into his bones. It lingers in his chest, even as wakefulness takes him over. He smiles, staring up at the ceiling, an image of Crowley standing in his doorway taking shape in his mind.

Had that been a dream, too? Aziraphale isn’t sure. But something tells him that it wasn't.

He pushes up in bed and lets his eyes drift to the bedroom doorway. Part of him almost expects to see Crowley still standing there, still a blurred figment of light, mingled with shadow, but standing there and looking at him nevertheless. But he finds nothing there but the hallway just beyond the threshold. Aziraphale sighs and drags a hand through his hair; he tries, so very hard, not to be disappointed. He tries to cling to the moments of peace that had invaded his cells upon first waking.

He fails; disappointment seeps into his skin like water soaks into the earth. Inevitable.

He scrubs at his scalp with his nails and resolves that a shower is going to be the best way to start this day. A shower and then a nice cup of coffee. Aziraphale has always been a Hot Bath At Night kind of fellow, but sometimes one just needs to bask beneath the stream of a warm, morning shower. He hopes, however quietly to himself, that perhaps the water might wash away whatever lingering discontent he feels at Crowley’s absent, leaving just the soothing peace of whatever it is he dreamt in its wake. Perhaps he might scrub away the disappointment.

Stripped down to his skin, Aziraphale adjusts the shower to the perfect temperature and steps over the rim of the tub and under the stream. He hadn’t bothered to turn the bathroom lights on, deciding that the rising sunlight was enough for now. He moves through the motions of his shower routine with easy swiftness until all that is left is to stand and bask under the warmth of the water, his thoughts hanging around him like the steam in the air. Through the crack in the curtain around the tub, he can just barely see out the window, can just make out the world that waits beyond it. But he doesn’t care about it. 

The only thing he seems able to focus on now is Crowley.

But what else is new?

Had he dreamt of Crowley? Aziraphale wishes he knew the answer. He remembers Crowley’s apparition so very acutely: the figure in the doorway, assuming it had been there at all, etched into his busy brain. It lingers in his mind, a cadre of emotions surrounding its shape in his head. He was smeared and blurred, unclear, and yet so very familiar to Aziraphale’s gaze. Fire-red hair - impossible to miss - a lithe, tall figure standing just within Aziraphale’s reach. Even through the veiled smudge of his sleep-addled brain, Aziraphale knows without hesitation that it had absolutely been Crowley.

Oh, how he’d longed to see all the details, how he aches to know all of Crowley's intricacies that the haze of his figure hides.

Aziraphale allows his eyes to slip closed and eases his face beneath the water.

Bits and pieces of his dreams come back to him: an angular jaw, fang-sharp teeth (inviting, coy), long and nimble limbs, touching him, moving around him, enveloping him. These memories, they are less a clear cut recollection of his dreams, and more a mishmash of interspersed feelings and sensations. The touch of a hand, the flash of golden eyes in the sun, arms clutching him, lips claiming him.

It feels beautiful. It feels like home.

Aziraphale wants that; he wants all of those things. He wants to imagine Crowley in full detail, to see him as clear as day, as solid and firm as a real body. He yearns - by god does Aziraphale yearn for him. He is desperate and aching, longing to know the taste of him, to know how firm his muscles are (were…), to learn the way his voice might sound when he speaks, he when laughs…

Perhaps even, when he moans.

No.

No. Absolutely not.

Aziraphale shakes his head. He needs to stop that thought right there in its tracks - but he can’t bring himself to let it go. The thought is there, as bright as a neon sign, flashing his wants so loudly that Aziraphale is forced to confront them. He will never know Crowley - that is a truth he has to expect, had to understand. And yet, he wants . He wants and he wants and he cannot explain why.

Beneath the heated stream of the water, Aziraphale’s skin is flushed and heated.

His mind drifts again - what did Crowley’s voice sound like? How high or how lilting were his whimpers? What noises would flit from his lips when he kissed - did he moan? Did he breathe , panting and heavy with want? Aziraphale shudders at the thought. A shaking sigh leaves his lips as he hand begins to creep down the front of his body.

How precise were the angles of Crowley’s body? How sharp did they feel when held in tight grips? Was his hair as soft as silk, like Aziraphale hopes? Did it ache to be touched, to be caressed, to be pulled , and adored?

Aziraphale bites his lower lip and lets his hand drift further. It slips down the line of his chest, past his belly, down to where his cock has risen to full attention. He grips himself with a firm fist and shudders out a gasp.

How did you love, dear boy? He thinks to Crowley, allowing his fist to begin a slow, languid pump on his dick. How loud did you moan? Were your kisses deep? Where did you like to be touched? Bitten? How did you beg to be loved?

Aziraphale groans and pumps himself a little more quickly.

Would you have kissed me, if you’d known me?

Could you have loved me, darling? Once upon a time, had we met at a different time, could you have loved someone like me? Could we have flourished together?

Pain flares deep in Aziraphale’s chest at the thought, but he ignores it, stroking himself harder and faster until his body is on the brink of release.

Crowley, he thinks. Crowley.

Crowley .

It is the only word he knows, the only thought in his head, the only name he cares to speak. Crowley

His fist tightens and he strains, his orgasm shuddering out of him in languid, resonating pulses.

Aziraphale huffs, body shivering in the aftermath.

Crowley , he thinks to himself, eyes clenched shut, fighting back tears.

Could I have made you happy?

What an awful thing to think…

Swallowing his tears, Aziraphale sniffles, cleans the remnants of his orgasm from his stomach, and turns the shower off. He snags his towel and pulls back the curtain, stepping out and moving towards the mirror as he dries.

He lifts his eyes to his reflection. The mirror is fogged, completely clouded by the steam.

But there, in the middle of the mirror, a word has been jotted in the condensation.

       Y E S.

Aziraphale’s lip quivers at the sight of it. He sucks in a hissing gasp through his teeth, aching for it to steady him. But it doesn’t. He feels the tears coming on again. How bloody fucking unfair this all is. The sudden onslaught of pain burns like a match in his throat and there is no comfort to be hand, no salve to soothe it, just an intangible word written in dew and set to fade away. He shakes his head as a tear slips down his cheek; he flings his hand up, hitting the mirror with a loud slap, and proceeds to wipe the YES away, until all that is left is the reflection of his ugly, tear-splotched face.

::

Dried off, dressed, and considerably less tearful, Aziraphale eventually migrates from his bedroom to the study. With careful, steady motions, he settles into the chair and scoots in close to the desk. His eyes focus on the typewriter that sits, innocuous as ever, in front of him.

There is a new line of text. Just beneath the the haphazard “YO U WO ULD BE THE FI RSTT. ”, the world “ PLEASE ” has been typed with devastating accuracy, no spaces, no missed or repeating letters like the other messages. Aziraphale sucks in a breath. Please, what? He wonders. And yet he already knows.

It’s please stay.

It’s please talk to me.

It’s please don’t be afraid.

Guilt washes over him. He sits, unmoving and deadly still, in the chair for a long several minutes. He stares with detached focus at the typewriter and considers the right course of action. He brings a hand to his mouth and rubs his lips, contemplating. With a nod, for himself, for the house, Aziraphale adjusts himself in the seat, back straight, posture determined. He leans forward and scoots the chair closer to the desk; his hand shakes for a brief second before he settles his fingers atop the typewriter’s keys. A little surge of something (hot, electric,  present ) flares up through his fingertips and into his hands as soon as he makes contact. He puffs out a low gust of hair, flexes his fingers with the sensation, and then replaces them on the keys again. With a long, low breath, Aziraphale steadies his resolve and begins to press the keys with pointed precision.

I’M HERE. TALK TO ME.

Aziraphale slides the carriage over and turns the knob to the next line, leaving it waiting and ready. He lingers for a moment, then decides against waiting for some sort of immediate response or action. He knows, deep down, that nothing will happen while he is sat there. And so with that, he stands from the chair, pushes it in neatly up to the desk, and goes downstairs for coffee and breakfast.

::

He spends most of his day in a daze - moving from place to place within the cottage, with no real purpose to any movement. He dusts and sweeps a little - as one does - but it is mechanical, no real care given to the state of his knickknacks, nor the cleanliness of his floors. If Aziraphale is honest with himself - and he finds he only sometimes is - he might admit that he is upset.

He’s upset with the quiet in the house. Upset with emptiness he feels around him today. Upset with all the thoughts that overcame him this morning. Upset that he may have finally, for the first time in his life, found someone he longs to care for, only to realize that that person will never ( can never) be a part of his world.

Aziraphale doesn’t know if he believes in life after death (can you really call a ghostly existence ‘life’?). Doesn’t know if he believes in heaven, or hell, but he imagines that there must be something . He has seen Crowley standing in this house. Has heard his movements, back and forth across the cottage floors. He has taken in every little message left for him. Aziraphale knows, and perhaps has even come to accept, in no uncertain terms, that Crowley is here , in one way or another. He is here, a part of this house as much as the foundation on which it stands. 

Crowley is here - and maybe that’s all Aziraphale will ever have. A glimpse here and there, a creak in the floorboards, a few short sentences pecked on an old typewriter. Maybe all he will ever have is a photograph, Crowley’s books, and the feeling that perhaps, had they met at another time, things might have been different.

He shouldn't think about it - because there is no real point in lingering on the things that have already come to pass. But he cannot help himself. What if they had met years ago, when he and Crowley were young? What if he had met Crowley, 15 years ago, at a London bar? Or a club in SoHo? What if they had met in their twenties. Would they have looked at each other, caught each other's eyes the way they have in this cottage? Would they have wanted to know each other? Aziraphale has to imagine they would have; he has no other way to rationalize his sudden, fervent attachment to this man (this dead man). Has no way to rationalize his unending compassion for a man that he will literally never truly know or meet.

Aziraphale cares for him. More than just words on the pages of a book. More than just a photograph. He yearns for him.

Crowley is a dead man - and Aziraphale yearns. 

Crowley is dead - and by god , does Aziraphale love him.

It isn’t right. It isn’t fair.

::

By noon, Aziraphale has mindlessly cleaned the entire downstairs, and he barely remembers of a fraction of the tasks he’s completed. Perhaps he mopped? He isn’t entirely sure.

He collapses on the couch with a low sigh and wonders if noon is too early to break open that nice bottle of whiskey he has kept under the sink. He figures it probably is. He sighs and drags a hand across his forehead. The house has been so warm today. Aziraphale lifts his left hand and lets his gaze linger on the glistening ring coiled around his pinky finger. With the fingertips of his right hand, he traces its shape with care, fingertips mapping out every little crevice and curve. So languid, so detailed. It aches him. His hand drops to his lap with a plop and he clears his throat, looking idly around the empty living room.

“I’m listening, you know…” He says to the house. “I’m trying…”

Aziraphale waits, and he waits, but no response comes. The house is silent. He huffs, resignation palpable in his voice, and he lets his eyes close. Before he knows it, he’s drifting into fitful sleep.

“What… what did you do?”

Aziraphale’s eyes jerk open at the sound of Crowley’s voice. He sits bolt upright on the couch, staring frantically around his living room. A fog has settled throughout the entire room, clouding it, obscuring its shapes and details.

“Crowley?” Aziraphale tries to say, but the word won’t leave his lips, his voice silent when he speaks. Aziraphale stands and fumbles through the living room, doing his best not to trip around the furniture. It seems to be in all different places than he remembers.

“Hell’s sake, what the fuck did you do to my manuscript?” Crowley’s voice demands again. Despair lingers in his tone, pained and disbelieving.

Aziraphale follows the sound of it to the base of the stairs. He still can’t see anything - why the hell is this haze so thick - but he can hear him just fine.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale tries again, but his voice is lost in the fog.

“Oh, goodness, now how in the world did that old thing get in the fireplace???” Another voice says, but its timbre is far harsher than Crowley’s, far more sardonic - condescending, to put it gently. Aziraphale prickles at the way it creeps into his ears, the tone skittering like an insect into his brain.

Without thinking, he follows the voices into the kitchen. Aziraphale reaches out, hands fumbling blindly in the fog, but he finds nothing, no one. Somewhere, in the corner of his eye, the mist seems to move, and he aches to follow it, but he cannot orient himself here.

“You… you burned it... You fucking burne- I… I had a publisher interested, Gabriel! Why the fuck would you… how could you do that?!”

Crowley’s voice stops Aziraphale in his tracks - the pain in his tone radiates and pierces Aziraphale’s chest like a knife. He sounds so shocked, so betrayed, so angry and full of despair.

“You… It... It was my first book…”

“Oh,” the other voice says, a voice Aziraphale can only assume is Gabriel’s, “well, nothing worthwhile lost then, right?”

Somewhere behind him, he hears Crowley snarl and let out an aggressive, frustrated shout. There is a flurry of motion, the mist in the room stuttering and shifting, wafting here and there with whatever movement Aziraphale cannot see. There is a loud thunk, like that of a body hitting a wall, and Gabriel lets out a grunt as his back makes contact with the wood.

“What the fuck is wrong with you??” Crowley demands, words strained, so very raw as they seep through the haze. Aziraphale can feel the hoarse rasp scratching his own throat.

Gabriel grunts again, and there is a sudden sound of flesh hitting flesh, a fist, maybe, or a hand. A body hits the ground. Aziraphale cries out but no sound leaves his lips.

Crowley groans in pain from somewhere on the floor. Aziraphale wants to rush to him, to find him, to cling to him and protect him, if he could only find him. But he fumbles in the fog, lost, aching, absolutely desperate. He wants to scream, but his mouth will not work.

Gabriel clears his throat.

“Are you finished throwing a fit?” Gabriel asks - patronizing, cruel . Aziraphale could kill him.

Crowley doesn’t respond, but Aziraphale can hear him, panting from the floor. Gabriel chuckles.

“Good. Now get the fuck up.”

Aziraphale wakes with a deep gasp, Crowley’s name tumbling from his lips. It takes him a moment, still lost in the haze of his dream, to rejoin the waking world, to understand his surroundings. His eyes dart wildly around the room before he realizes that he is still in his living room. The fog is gone now but the sun has begun to set and the shadows have begun to creep inside.

Aziraphale groans and leans forward, planting his elbows on his thighs and burying his face in his hands. Tears burn his eyes and he is half-convinced that if he just… stays like this, keeps his face hidden in his palms, it will somehow keep the grief that lingers from his dream at bay. But it doesn’t. It washes over him like a wave, the cold, the pain, the sorrow burying him until he cannot breathe. He yanks his hands from his face, eyes red and face flush, and decides to stop fighting it. He lets the tears come and he stares - empty-eyed - at the far wall and waits for them to stop.

By the time they do, his eyes are sore and his cheeks are tender from the drying salt.

He closes his eyes for a brief moment, feeling himself calm down. With one low nod, he forces himself to stand and heads out of the living room and into the kitchen. He needs to make dinner before it gets too late, and frankly, he feels like he has earned a very stiff glass of whiskey, on top of it.

::

It is dark outside by the time Aziraphale is cleaning up from dinner. Much like he’d spent his day, he moves about his kitchen in precise, methodical motions - no real thought behind them, just memory and habit. He tosses his scraps in the compost (something he’d started when he thought he might want to start a little garden out back - a project he’s mostly forgotten by now), deposits his dishes in the sink, and gets the water running.

He stands at the sink and waits for it to fill. Without thinking, he digs into his pants pocket and pulls out Crowley’s photograph. He sets it with care atop the windowsill, propped up on the pane so that Crowley’s image looks back at him. He smiles at it, but the corners of his mouth are far too tight, unable to relax.

He drops his gaze again. As he stares at the water, he tries, so very, very hard, to banish any and all thoughts of the dream he’d had earlier. His imagination has run wild lately - insane stories, his brain filling in the gaps, desperate to create a story around he’s never even met. But his heart is dead-set on convincing his head that this is no creation, that this is no instance of an imagination run amok. Aziraphale doesn’t want to think about it.

He’s not particularly ready to live in a world where Crowley had been treated so poorly. But something tells him that’s the world he already lives in. Aziraphale shakes his head, turns off the water, yanks up his sleeves, and digs into the water to begin cleaning.

Things could have been better that what he'd had. Things could have maybe even been good for them... had they ever had the chance. 

But that is neither here nor there.

There are so many what-ifs that swirl around the mucked up mess he calls his thoughts. What if he’d been the one to meet Crowley? What if he’d been the one to buy this cottage with him? Crowley would probably be alive, at least. Anger flares in his chest.

Drowned?

People don't just fucking drown.

Well, that isn't true at all, he supposes. People often do 'just drown'. But Crowley? Would Crowley have 'just drowned'? Taken away from the waking world by some tragic, freak accident?

Logic says yes.

Anger and fear say no.

Anger and fear tell him that Crowley's death was not an accident at all. He has nothing to back that feeling up but he doesn't care.

Aziraphale licks his lips and focuses on the plate in his hands - best not to linger on these thoughts. Probably best not to think of Crowley at all. But he can’t stop himself.

He cranes his head to the right, staring at the empty space next to him on the other side of the sink.

It would be a perfect place for Crowley’s figure to fit, for all the little pieces of Crowley’s life to join with the bits of his own. Aziraphale’s eyelids droop a little and for a brief moment, he lets himself imagine that Crowley is standing there beside him. He’s got a dish towel in one hand, a plate in the other, and he’s smiling. He speaks soundless words but they look right and happy, spoken through the curves of Crowley's grin. Aziraphale imagines him to be the type to gesture wildly with his arms when he speaks. Perhaps Aziraphale might have playfully chastised him, warning him not to flail so carelessly with their (yes, their…) dishware in his hands. And Crowley would’ve grimaced, scoffed, rolled his eyes, and then gone right back to his mad gesticulations. Aziraphale smiles - imagines Crowley moving back and forth between the sink and the cabinet, putting things away as Aziraphale hands them off.

This is a daydream; Aziraphale knows that. He knows the space beside him is empty. He knows this house is empty. He knows that Crowley will never stand beside him at this sink, will never wash a dish with him, will never do any of these little domestic things Aziraphale imagines. That doesn't stop him from wanting, though.

It's just a dream, but Aziraphale aches to cling to it like a dying man might cling to his breath.

He wants to hold this vision close to him and yet he knows he can’t . He cannot clutch a fantasy forever - that’s a quick way to lose one’s self. Even more so than Aziraphale supposes he has already lost himself.

With a heavy, steady blink, Aziraphale pulls himself from the daydream. His kitchen is empty, the water in the sink has grown cold, and he still hasn’t finished the dishes. He sighs and turns his head center again. He sets the pan he’d been cleaning on the drying rack and moves to the plate, scrubbing it with absent, barely there motions as he lets his gaze lift up to stare out the kitchen window.

The moon is bright tonight, and he wonders if it's full; the landscape is still dark, of course, but the glow of the moon illuminates it just enough that Aziraphale can see it. Aziraphale takes in what he can, staring past his own reflection, out to the pond beyond the glass. The wind is rustling the tall grasses across the back field, the tree leaves shivering with its gusts, but the surface of the water is deadly still. It’s always still, it seems.

He drops his eyes back down to the plate in his hand, forcing himself to actually focus on cleaning it. And surprisingly enough, he does manage to focus - for a moment, at least. But in the next moment, a distant cry from somewhere outside yanks his attention back up.

Aziraphale freezes.

That-That sounded like a person, like someone yelling. Aziraphale focuses his gaze back out the window with intention, staring out at the pond behind the house. He is wholly unprepared for what he sees.

The plate in his hand slips from his grip and clatters into the sink. He vaguely registers the sound of it breaking on its impact, but he can't bring himself to care: the pond outside is still no longer.

Eyes wide, Aziraphale sees a flurry of motion atop the water - the reflective white and darkened shadow blur, mingled together in motion, interspersed with the violent splashing of tumultuous water.

Aziraphale doesn’t even stop to grab his shoes before he flings the back door open and sprints towards the pond.

Frantic, desperate shouts fill his ears - a man's voice, crying out in desperation. Aziraphale's feet pound against the cold, hardened earth beneath him; his heart pumps in sync with every step he takes. The commotion continued to rage in the pond, but he cannot distinguish any of the shapes. They are a blur, obscured by hysterical, desperate water that splashes around them.

“CROWLEY!” Aziraphale shouts as he approaches the pond. He is heaving already, breath lost in a mixture of fear, adrenaline, and fatigue. Feet unsteady beneath him, he loses his footing and stumbles, almost falling to the ground but catching himself just in time to continue his strides.

Shouts from the pond still echo across the country fields. Panicked. Desperate. Afraid .

“Cr-Crowley!” Aziraphale cries out again.

There is no preamble nor grace as he stumbles, fumbles, and crumbles onto his hands and knees into the pond. He falls straight into the middle of the violent splashing, expecting - god, he doesn’t know what he expects. He is frantic, motions hurried and urgent, arms fumbling through the turbulent water and calling out for Crowley.

Crowley died here, he died here, but maybe… maybe there’s a chance.

A chance he can be saved? Ridiculous.

Aziraphale doesn’t care.

“Crowley, damn you! Where are you? Crowley!!” Aziraphale shouts into the darkness. The water continues to splash and slosh on all sides of him, and he stands in the middle of a vortex of chaos, body aching for touch, longing to save the one thing he knows he cannot save.

Aziraphale’s voice is so harsh, so raspy and strained as he screams for Crowley.

“Please! I can't find you!” He begs the water, hands still reaching, swimming, grabbing at nothing, aching to find , all the while finding nothing.

And then…

It stops. Everything stops.

The water goes halcyon still. Flat like death, silent as a tomb, the only sound he hears is the panting of his own haggard breath.

Aziraphale looks on all sides of him, but there is nothing around him to be seen. The water is undisturbed, save for the ripples around his body. And Crowley… Crowley is nowhere. It is just him, just Aziraphale out here, alone, soaked to the bone, hair and face dripping with water and shame as he tries to catch his breath.

A cool breeze whips past him, and he shies himself away from it. It chills him - deep and painful, like holding onto an ice cube. Resignation fills him, bubbling in his gut, rending him from the very inside out, emptying him of… of he doesn’t even know what. Happiness? Hope? The thought that perhaps he could make things different? Aziraphale hangs his head.

How ridiculous he has been, how utterly absurd his actions. Idealistic fool.

He can’t keep on like this… He will lose himself, if he hasn’t already. But he cannot seem to let go.

Crowley .

With another shiver, Aziraphale wraps his arms around himself and plods out of the waist-deep water. The frigid air bombards him, assaults him with every step he takes back towards the cottage.

He slips back inside his house (he hadn’t even bothered to close the door when he’d sprinted out of it), but finds it is no warmer inside than it was outside. Aziraphale trembles as he closes the door behind him and moves to stand by the stove. He is drenched from head to toe, water trickling off the tips of his hair, down his face, down the curve of his neck. He needs to get out of these clothes, perhaps get into a hot bath. Make himself some cocoa. He needs to do anything that might soothe him right now.

But he cannot seem to move. He is rooted, like the trees at the edge of the pond, stuck in place by the stove. .

The water that sloughs off of him is pooling at his feet now, threatening to seep into the wood. And it’s only now that Aziraphale realizes, with aching, painful clarity, that he is standing exactly atop the existing stain. His own little pool of water has begun to overtake it, but the old stain is there nonetheless. His lip quivers as he stares at his feet and watches the water build up around him. He sputters out a breath - broken now, his state of mind borders on unhinged as he stares at the floorboards.

Aziraphale cannot stop the emotion that is coming, the pain that overtakes him like a rushing wave. He collapses to his knees and sobs.

Unbridled, unmitigated, unable to be contained. The cries pour out of him like water.

He doesn’t even fully understand why he’s crying, but he cries nevertheless. Awash in grief, in a heap on the floor, his head in his hands, he wails . Guttural, so raw that his throat scratches with every sound he sobs, but he cannot stop . This has overtaken him, all of this has, and he doesn’t know how to stop the ache.

Crowley , he thinks to himself, and the name clutches his chest so hard he can barely breath.

Crumpled on the kitchen floor, worsening the stain on the floorboards, Aziraphale cries until there is nothing left of him.

The tears eventually dry; the sobs eventually quiet. No one can weep forever. Eventually, he gets himself just a little bit under control. No, that’s not right. He’s not in control of this - he is not in control, he is merely resigned to this morbidity. Quiet and accepting of its pain. He hates it, but he cannot let it go. Doesn’t want to let it go. Because somewhere, beyond the veil, he can’t ignore, nor can he stave, the love that roars inside him. He cannot ignore the affection and fondness that lives inside this house.

He cannot forget all the ways that he yearns .

Aziraphale steadies his breathing and lifts his head, looking around the kitchen. The floor is drenched by now, and he’s sure the stain will only worsen from here, but he doesn’t care.

Something snags his attention, like the snap of fingers. He turns his head to the right, drawn like a magnet, and looks into the foyer.

The foyer is coated in darkness, but it is certainly not empty.

Aziraphale doesn’t startle, he doesn’t make a sound, he doesn’t even flinch as he takes in Crowley’s figure in the doorway. He stands in the darkness, clearer now, and better defined than Aziraphale had seen him just the night before. He is a figment - a mixture of shadow, of white, of grey, of fog - but he is here. There are details to him now, little intricacies that Aziraphale can study. He takes them in: Crowley’s lean figure, his cocked-up posture, sharp nose, and a jaw you could cut yourself on. Crowley’s eyes are white now - completely so. No pupils. No irises. Just alabaster, lifeless sclera. Empty , Aziraphale thinks, and yet… he is looking at me.

He stares at Crowley, still as can be, from his dampened place on the kitchen floor.

Aziraphale lets himself breathe as he sits in Crowley’s presence - it’s a long, purposeful breath, so different than the stuttering sobs and gasps from just a moment before. He feels bleary, faded around the edges; exhaustion has seeped into him the way the water has soaked the fabric of his clothes. He wants to watch Crowley, he wants to sit here on his kitchen floor, in his pond-wet clothing, and simply take this man in, to take him into himself.

And so he stares. He watches. He basks in terrified awe.

Crowley’s eyes are locked with his; silent, still, steadfast. .

          The lower being you are looking at is me.

He is transfixed. All but mesmerized by this presence. 

It takes a moment - or perhaps an hour, Aziraphale isn’t sure - but Crowley eventually breaks his statuesque stillness. Without a sound, without so much as a whisper, Crowley cranes his head to the right, in the direction of the stairs. His movements are choppy and broken, like the reticent flicker of a flame on a candle’s wick or the skipping of a record. Crowley turns his body and walks with slow, precise motions, towards the stairs.  

Unthinking, unquestioning, Aziraphale pushes himself to stand. Crowley is gone from his sight now, but Aziraphale can hear the faint creaking of the stairs as the specter climbs them. Aziraphale clenches his hands at his sides, fingernails digging like points into the soft flesh of his palms, as he resolves himself. Before he can question himself, Aziraphale pushes his body into motion, proceeding into the foyer in Crowley’s wake. Crowley had not spoken, he had not called to him, had not instructed Aziraphale to follow, and yet it is what he must do. 

There are words to be said now - that much Aziraphale knows. From the soak of his clothes, to the chill in his soul, Aziraphale knows the words can wait no longer. 

The floorboards upstairs begin to creak as Aziraphale reaches the base of the stairs, soft steps moving down the hall. Aziraphale he knows, without having to wonder, that he is meant to follow these sounds. To follow Crowley.

And so he follows. 

At the top of the stairs, Aziraphale pauses. To his left, at the end of the hall, the door to the study is open and waiting for him. To his right: the bedroom. As if answering a question he hadn’t bothered to ask himself, Aziraphale trembles with the cold and the wet, remembering that he is still soaked to his core. He forces the lump in his throat down and looks towards the study. 

“Give… give me a moment, love…” Aziraphale implores, and then proceeds into his bedroom. He trudges through his room, leaving wet footprints along the floorboards, and heads into the bathroom. Standing in front of the mirror, Aziraphale eyes himself. He looks drowned out - eyes red from crying, skin splotchy from their salt, face flushed from his screams. He is positively haggard - and somehow, he manages to feel far worse than he looks. With a low hum, he begins to peel each wet item of clothing from his body. 

His eyes pan around the bathroom, looking for… looking for anything, really. But there is nothing, no one. 

“You best not be peeking,” he rasps to the empty bathroom, trying to force a grin, but the jokes sticks like sand on his tongue. His smile is little more than a twisted line across his face. 

It’s awful. 

Towel-dried and re-dressed in a set of dry, proper pyjamas, Aziraphale resigns that he must go to the study. 

He doesn’t have to, he supposes, daring a glance at his bed. He could stop this all now. He could go lie down right now, he could close his eyes and go to sleep. He could allow himself to forget this entire evening. Perhaps he would wake in the morning and pretend that all of this was okay, that he didn’t have to actually deal with it. 

But he does have to deal with it. And frankly, he doesn’t want to simply let this go; doesn’t want to go to sleep. Aziraphale doesn’t want to avoid this; cannot bring himself to pretend nothing is wrong. 

Aziraphale is exhausted - rightfully so - and is so very weary from all of the tears and all of the pain. But he knows he cannot simply forget: he can’t pretend this isn’t happening. He doesn’t want to pretend.  

What he wants is Crowley. Wants to see him, wants to hear him, wants to take all the pain that this place seems to harbor and wash it clean. 

He wants to hear whatever must be said. Aziraphale wants - needs - to listen to all the words he knows must be spoken. 

And so Aziraphale goes to the study.

::

Chapter Text

::

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.

No.

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.

“Wh-who did?”

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.

“Gabriel...”

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.

Oh, Crowley. 

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.

Crowley whispers:

“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.

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
1973-2008

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.

Aziraphale nods.

“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 ?”

Aziraphale nods.

“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.

Anathema shrugs.

“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.

BASTARD.

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 .

And yet…

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.

::

Chapter Text

::

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.

“Yes?”

“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.”

“...An 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.

“Car shows?”

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.

“Thank you…”

::

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. 

“Darling…”

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.

“Ah, god…”

He strokes himself harder, a fraction faster, and he feels a breath against his ear.

“Aziraphale… Angel…”

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.

“Sorry.”

“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…”

“I do.”

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.

Aziraphale sighs.

“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.

“I can’t…”

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.

“Dear girl.”

“Yes, love?”

“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.”

“Anything.”

“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.”

“Okay…”

“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 won’t.”

“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.

Crowley pauses.

“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…

Himself.

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.

Crowley .

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.

“Mr. Fell???”

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.

::

this amazing art was drawn by king-erzsebet on tumblr - please go check them out on and give 'em a reblog! thank you so much for this incredible piece.

::