They stopped at the bookshop first.
It wasn't that Aziraphale didn't believe Crowley when he said it had all burned–it would in fact be quite some time, he thought, before he could believe anyone but Crowley about anything–it was simply that he wanted to see it for himself. They had still been halfway down the block when he'd caught his first look of it from the outside. The broken windows and charred frames weighed heavily on him.
He stood for quite some time on the wet pavement under the dark sky in the glow of the streetlamps with his hand over his mouth and his eyes closed. No one bothered them, even though they were blocking the walkway in front of the shop. The street traffic was more quiet than usual for the time of night, as if the whole world was holding its breath.
“You could miracle it back,” Crowley suggested.
“No miracles,” Aziraphale said. “My side aren't likely to stay distracted for long, but I don’t want to draw their attention any sooner than I have to.”
“We don’t have to go in, you know.”
"I do." Aziraphale opened his eyes and dropped his hand to his side, steeled himself to step forward. “You can stay out here if you like.”
He tried the door and it swung open easily.
The smell was the first thing that hit him. It was sharp with smoke and sour, like mildew had already begun to settle in. The floorboards creaked under his feet differently than they had that morning and there were so many destroyed books scattered across them. There were covers and pages strewn about as if they had been pulled apart deliberately. The circle of candles was somehow still standing save for one. The wax on them hadn’t even had the decency to pretend they were contrite and melt. Heaven’s handiwork at its infuriating best.
Crowley walked around him and angrily kicked the candles so they scattered. “I thought they’d killed you,” he said. “I was so angry. I wanted. I wanted the fire to keep going. To burn it all down.”
“Hold on to that.” Aziraphale touched the pocket on his overcoat where the prophecy sat, waiting to be solved. “They may yet.”
Crowley hissed under his breath.
There was a curious tussle happening in Aziraphale’s heart. On one hand, this was an unmitigated disaster. This shop that he had poured so much of his love and attention into, where he’d spent so many hours working while Crowley skulked around in the shelves and pretended he didn’t want to be there, where he had learned so much about what humanity could be and what he could be, was gone. It felt like a part of him had died.
On the other hand, it was a miracle that the ruins of his home away from Heaven stood here at all. If Armageddon had come the best case scenario would be his shop and all of England as a pile of rubble. The worst case scenario would be that pile of rubble just wiped from the physical plane along with everything around it. Aziraphale remembered the crisp, colorless nothingness that had existed before they started putting together the universe. He didn’t miss it. The very presence of this ruin was singing. There was nothing to be done.
“What would you say to some sushi?” he asked.
“So long as we don’t have to eat it in,” Crowley said. “I don’t think I can handle anymore humans today.”
“Anymore of anybody,” Aziraphale agreed.
“Come on then.” Crowley gave one last angry look at the candles, shoved his hands into his pockets, and stomped out. “The place near my flat is better than anything around here.”
Aziraphale didn’t quite agree, but there was a time for the old familiar arguments and this was definitely not it. As soon as his feet hit the pavement outside Crowley snapped his fingers and the door closed shut behind him. Several soft thuds sounded as more deadbolts than he knew had been on the door previously locked into place.
Rather than magic another bus out of its route they walked. Aziraphale was thankful for the quiet and the empty-ish streets and the sound of Crowley’s footsteps falling half a beat behind his own. About halfway back to Crowley’s it began to rain softly. The kind of misty, hazy rain that made an umbrella useless because it seemed to be manifesting slowly from all directions at once. They continued through it, getting damper by the second and not making any move to do anything about it. In the face of all that had happened a little wetness felt like nothing at all.
Aziraphale remembered standing on the wall with Crowley all those thousands of years ago when it first rained over the garden and the surrounding desert. He had lifted a wing to keep Crowley dry, but had not taken any care with himself. He hadn’t been able to explain it to Crowley at the time, or felt like he needed to really, but he’d just wanted to know what rain felt like.
All of the angels had spent so long putting together every part of this world and the universe it was in that it felt like an unimaginable honor to be one of the first beings ever to really get to experience it. It still felt like an honor, a blessing, a gift to be allowed to be here at all. And here Crowley was, still next to him, even after Aziraphale had lied to him and denied him and just plain not listened because he thought he knew better. Crowley’s presence too had become a gift, but one of a different kind.
“Get a move on, Angel,” Crowley said. “Or we’ll have to break into the place and put it all together on our own.”
. . .
The dining room in Crowley’s flat was the kind of modern, spare chic that looked like it was just waiting for twenty people to show up with their diamonds and expensive shoes and champagne glasses and properly decorate the place with their presence. Unfortunately for the dining room, but fortunately for Aziraphale’s nerves, it currently only held one angel and one demon, both in damp shirtsleeves. Crowley sat at the head of the onyx black table and started opening plastic containers of food. Aziraphale took one look down the ten foot length to the other end and decided to just sit at the corner at Crowley’s elbow. He reached across Crowley’s sashimi to get at the seaweed salad and Crowley stared at him from over the top of his sunglasses, but didn’t snap at him with his chopsticks as he had many times in the past.
“Thank you,” Aziraphale said, in reference to nothing in particular. He simply felt like it needed saying after all that had happened.
Crowley raised an eyebrow and put a bite of fish into his mouth.
A restlessness had been fluttering in Aziraphale’s gut since Crowley had asked him to run away to Alpha Centauri and it hit him now, all at once while he was smashing a bit of wasabi into a small ramequin of soy sauce, that it had not been restlessness but fear. He had been too involved in the fear of everything else that was happening to properly isolate it, but he had been afraid Crowley would leave without him after all. After six thousand years Aziraphale wasn’t sure he even knew how to live without Crowley, but he did know he didn’t want to try. That he was afraid of what it might be like to be left here alone.
How much time did they have, he wondered, before their respective sides came for them? Not long enough, probably. It could be another six thousand years and it wouldn’t be enough.
“Were you planning on taking your glasses with you, to Alpha Centauri?” he asked.
Crowley made a noise that was somewhere between a sigh and a groan and removed the sunglasses. The thin pupils slimmed to slivers and then returned to their usual size in the yellow irises. “There,” he said. “Are you happy? Anything else you’d like me to lose?”
“Just your guard,” Aziraphale replied.
He liked Crowley’s eyes. They were interesting and it really was a shame they had to be covered over as often as they were, but it was paramount they not scare the humans. Aziraphale was staring. Crowley narrowed his interesting eyes in Aziraphale’s direction. Aziraphale shoveled too much seaweed into his mouth.
Crowley scowled. “It’s only a matter of time before we’re both properly fucked. You said so yourself. And they’ve already broken into my home and splashed their infernal matter all over my impeccably clean floors. Yesterday we could have eaten this off the floors,” he said, mournfully. “I’m afraid guard is all I have.”
Aziraphale swallowed his food without really enjoying it, which annoyed him. For a being that did not depend on anything outside of himself and his continued usefulness to the ineffable plan for his survival, the enjoyment of a thing–aesthetically, gastronomically, aurally, etc–was often the only reason to have a thing. Crowley was not a thing, but Aziraphale had also come to see him as something to be enjoyed in whatever small ways he could.
“That’s not true,” he said. “You have that horrifyingly intimate statue. You have more food than even I know what to do with. You have the ability to play Mussorgsky so loudly they can hear it in the pit. And you have me.”
Bravery spent, Aziraphale looked down quickly and studied the way the chopsticks sat cradled in his hand. It was true. It had been true for a long time and they both knew it, but somehow hearing it come out of his own mouth set the fear in his stomach alive again.
Crowley put his chopsticks down and leaned back in his chair. He clasped his hands in his lap and looked Aziraphale over. “Do you know what there is to do in Alpha Centauri?”
Aziraphale dipped a piece of a roll into his soy sauce, deliberately covering it over so that every piece of rice turned brown. He looked up and met Crowley’s gaze as he put it into his mouth.
“Nothing,” Crowley said. “There is nothing to do there. There are no interesting restaurants, no young playwrights in need of miracles, no plants to menace. None like the ones here, anyway. There are no people to test.”
“Fruit trees?” Aziraphale asked.
Crowley raised a finger and pointed it at him to let him know he’d gotten the gist. There would be nothing in Alpha Centauri but some stars that orbited each other, some planets that orbited them, and two beings who had also been orbiting each other in irregular patterns since it all began. They would truly be alone. It would be like the garden, except that Crowley and Aziraphale had both already become very fond of clothing.
Aziraphale put his chopsticks down. “You would miss this place.”
“If you had said yes there would probably not have been a this place to miss.”
“You give the child too little credit.”
“He is a very small human, there’s only so much credit his skin can hold in.”
They’d had a version of this argument before. In some ways their lives were almost as circuitous as the humans’, even as they existed outside of the existential realm of them. They frequented the same restaurants. The tasks they performed were all working toward the same outcome. They haunted each other with their presence and their thoughts and their actions. Sometimes Crowley or Aziraphale had to go away for work, but they were never truly gone. They were only ever just a snap away from home.
Home was not this flat and home was not his bookshop. These places had the intent of being their earthly homes, but slowly, over time, home had become the space between them. Home, Aziraphale had learned from humans, was mainly found in the buildup of little monotonies that came from feeling comfortable with another being sharing your space. The monotonies of mille-feuille at the Ritz and broken bread for the ducks and Mozart cds that were never just Mozart cds and arms thrown over shoulders in drunken giddiness and small trinkets and coins left all over Aziraphale's life from Crowley's many demonic business trips to everywhere.
The monotony of the sun rising only to set again–immutable periods of light and dark.
Before he’d even really started paying attention he had already been keeping time by Crowley’s wiles, by the way Crowley constantly updated his style, by the way his whole body swayed when he walked, by the way his tongue sometimes darted out between his lips when he laughed as if he was tasting the joy on the air, by the way he turned the pages of books in that loud and careless manner of his as if he was daring them to tear.
Aziraphale could keep time by Crowley’s absences too. By how long it took for him to begin to feel unresolved somehow without his demonic counterpart to bounce off of, and how long it took that pang to dull into a cautious want and then again into regret. Aziraphale loved every small, intricate moving part that his life had developed as a consequence of knowing Crowley. He knew it was love because that was just the kind of angel he was. Love and forgiveness were what he was and what he did. He just never quite knew what to do with his Crowley specific love because he also knew it was inappropriate for him to love a demon in this way.
At least, he knew that was what he had been told, but it didn't always feel true. It had begun to feel less and less true over time. Why would he have been created with this capacity for love if he was not supposed to use it? And Crowley had been made so curious, curious enough to fall. Why shouldn't he fall for Aziraphale too? Why shouldn't Aziraphale fall to meet him?
All of this love, the give and take, push and pull of it, had led to the moment earlier that day when Aziraphale watched an eleven year old boy tell one of the most powerful beings in the whole of existence to leave him alone. Somehow that boy had managed to do this and survive the encounter. Surely that had to mean that Aziraphale himself could tell something as small and mean as his constant, learned need for propriety to leave him alone with similar if not improved results.
“We are very small too. In the scheme of things,” he said.
Crowley leaned forward and tapped his finger on the table. “Where is it?”
Aziraphale pulled the prophecy from his pocket and placed it on a lid that sat between them. He cleared his throat. “I’ve been thinking about our inevitable punishment.”
“I’ve been trying not to think about it,” Crowley said darkly.
“I rather think we have to take it at face value.”
“What? And choose our faces? Really, Angel.” Crowley hunched his shoulders. He looked like he was about to break it to a child that unicorns weren’t really real. Well, not anymore.
“Well why not?”
“It’s not a thing I’ve ever tried to do, become someone else. I’m not sure it’s a thing I can do.”
“You can turn into a snake, I don’t see why you couldn’t turn into me.”
“You’re, you’re a great deal more... complicated ,” Crowley said. “Besides, you could look like me, but you could never be me.”
Aziraphale tried to relax his posture. He mimicked the way Crowley was slumped in his chair. It bunched up his waistcoat and shirt and was very uncomfortable. He sat up straight again almost immediately. Crowley broke into a wide grin.
“And you think you could be me?” Aziraphale asked, tidying his waistcoat.
“I didn’t say that.” Crowley sat up straight, smoothed his hands over the table like he was straightening an invisible cloth. He ate another bite of sashimi and primly dabbed at his lips with a paper napkin. “But I will say that I think I know you a sight better than any of those pompous assholes. They probably don’t even know what to look for outside of the shape of you. My people surely don’t.”
“What happens if we’re wrong?”
“What happens if we’re right?” Crowley slumped back into his relaxed posture and draped a leg over the arm of the chair.
Aziraphale wondered if it was the slim pointiness of him that made these postures comfortable or if he had developed being slim and pointy to suit them.
“Crowley, I’m being serious. What happens if we do this and we’ve missed something? Or, or misunderstood something? What happens if you get stuck in Heaven and I get stuck in, in...Hell.” The last word came out in a whisper. Aziraphale could barely make himself think of it.
It wouldn’t be like being a demon, which would have been bad enough. It would be punishment, confinement, torture perhaps, and loneliness certainly. There were a great many things that Aziraphale thought he could handle for eternity, but loneliness was not one of them. He thought about Crowley alone in Alpha Centauri, about how much it had hurt him to tell Crowley that they were over. He hated every part of the Apocalypse, even now that it was technically over–the subterfuge and the distrust and the hunted feeling. This hate was antithesis to his very nature and it was starting to chafe.
“Your concern for those of us who are beneath you,” Crowley said coldly, “is so very appreciated.”
“Stop it,” Aziraphale said. “Be helpful.”
Crowley stopped. “When do you want to do it?”
“The sooner the better probably. The spike in power used will certainly tip our respective people off to our whereabouts, but I worry that if we wait too long they will find us anyway. It’s not as if we’ve buggered off to Dubai or, or Seattle.”
“I’ve never been to Seattle,” Crowley said.
“Not even when…?” Aziraphale asked.
Crowley shook his head. “We should go. Gotta be a lot of wiles one could thwart in a place like Seattle. If one was so inclined. All those caffeine fueled tech people and adults on bicycles.”
Aziraphale sighed. “If we survive this and our feet land back on this planet, I will go wherever you want.”
“Wherever?” Crowley asked. He held out his hand.
“Are you so determined to make me regret this?”
“What? No, I just thought it would be easier if we were in contact. We could maybe, I don’t know, swap energy?”
“Not what I meant, but you might be right.” Aziraphale reached over and clasped Crowley’s hand with his own. He concentrated on Crowley and what it must feel like to be him.
The magic washed over him like a light panic. Pin prick tingles rained over his skin. His chest felt tight, his heart felt too big. Whether that was down to the narrowness of Crowley’s general being or the sudden loss of a form Aziraphale had been wearing for over six thousand years, he didn’t know. It was a matter of moments before he was sitting opposite himself.
Crowley was still sprawled all over the chair and Aziraphale was confronted with something he’d always suspected but now knew for sure which was that, in his body, sprawling did not look cool. He just looked like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Not even Crowley’s self-assuredness could make that position look more comfortable when he didn’t look like himself.
“Angel?” he asked, looking down at their hands.
Aziraphale did not want to let go. He had held hands with people before. It was a necessary part of learning the gavotte for one thing, and there were always other little reasons. Humans were constantly seeking out touch and Aziraphale, seeing himself as a being of comfort and support, had obliged them on occasion. He had never held hands with Crowley before, though. He’d shaken hands with Crowley certainly, but he’d never held on this long, with purpose . And he had certainly never held on this long with Crowley while Crowley looked like him. He was essentially holding hands with himself, which felt both bizarre and thrilling. If they made it through this he was going to seriously consider more touching between them. Maybe the humans were on to something.
“Angel,” Crowley said again, voice soft, sounding unlike himself in more ways than mere tone.
“Right,” Aziraphale said in Crowley’s voice. He let go of Crowley’s hand and leaned back into his chair, trying to copy Crowley’s posture.
There was a longness to Crowley that felt different from the inside than it looked on the outside. As far as Aziraphale knew, Crowley had not been a snake properly in years, but there was still something of the slither about the way this body wanted to move. Aziraphale could feel it even at rest. He climbed out of the chair and stood, testing the long legs.
“Can I ask you something?”
Crowley pointed at his feet where Aziraphale was using them. “It’s because they’re too close together.”
“What?” Aziraphale looked down and spread his stance a bit, having to make an effort to balance himself on the narrow boots. “Oh, yes, that is better, thank you, but no. That’s not what I was going to ask.”
“What then?” Crowley ate the last bite of sashimi and Aziraphale watched him thoughtfully chew it with a different mouth.
Why me, Aziraphale thought. Why want to go off together? Why risk yourself when we’re not even on the same sides? Why did we even fall in together to begin with? Why do I love you so much? Why is it even possible for me to love you so much? Do you feel it?
All he could bring himself to say out loud was, “Why?”
Crowley leaned forward, propped an elbow on the table and rested Aziraphale’s chin in his hand. The other arm was hanging loose between his legs and Aziraphale was sure the other angels would know the minute they saw him that something was amiss. He hoped they didn’t, even though that would prove Crowley’s assessment of Aziraphale’s whole existence correct. That would sting.
“Why what?” Crowley said, in a tone that made it clear that he knew exactly what Aziraphale was asking, but wasn’t going to make any part of this too easy.
Probably, Aziraphale assumed, because of how difficult Aziraphale had sometimes made Crowley’s life over time. Probably he had a small percentage of this coming.
Crowley shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’m meant to. Why were you put where you were? Why was I put where I was? We were dropped into each other’s paths. I’m not saying it was important that we know each other in the scheme of things, but–”
“You’re not not saying that,” Aziraphale finished for him.
Crowley grinned at him. Aziraphale hadn’t known it was possible for his face to show that many teeth. “It doesn’t matter anyway. It’s happened. We’re here now. What is it you said a moment ago? I have you.”
“It does matter, to me.”
“It’s ineffable,” Crowley said. He waved his hand and the food disappeared, leaving the table looking as if they had never interrupted its true purpose of taking up a very specific amount of space in the middle of the room.
Aziraphale frowned and it felt oddly like a more complicated maneuver with Crowley’s face. “I’m starting to think we may wear that word out.”
“Okay,” Crowley said. “Why don’t we all just start saying what we mean then? Or would that be too fast for some of us?”
“My dear,” Aziraphale said disapprovingly. He rapped Crowley’s knuckles on the table. “There’s no need to be rude. I said that so long ago and–”
Crowley stood and closed the space between them. It was a truly surreal experience, Aziraphale realized, being menaced by one’s own not-at-all-menacing body. Crowley tilted his head and narrowed his eyes as he looked Aziraphale over.
“The only reason,” he began, jabbing a finger square into Aziraphale’s borrowed chest, “that your body is standing here in white and mine is standing there in black is that at some point I realized a rigid and compulsive need to control the manners and actions of other people was about intimidation and control and not what was good for everyone involved.”
“And what do we call this?” Aziraphale asked.
Crowley tilted his head the other way. “We call it, I’m very relieved you are still here because this whole stupid world is useless without you and I have to say it like this because every other time I’ve said it in the last several millennia you’ve ignored me. Or worse yet, thought I was somehow kidding.”
“You, you do kid,” Aziraphale said.
“I have never,” Crowley snapped. “Not about you.”
Aziraphale squared up to Crowley’s full height. He hoped he was staring back at his demon with as much intensity as he was getting. “Are you going to shove me against another wall?”
“Do you want me to?”
“Not,” Aziraphale let out a shaky breath. “Not right now, no.”
Crowley stepped back.
“You know this is why I didn’t want to give you the holy water, don’t you? Because, I couldn’t bear it if–”
“No,” Crowley groused. “You didn’t want to give it to me because you didn’t trust me. There’s a difference.”
There was a difference, but Aziraphale wasn’t going to admit that out loud just this moment. He actually had feared for Crowley’s life, for what Crowley would do. That thought brought him back to right here right now, because from the time Crowley had asked him for the holy water until right this moment Aziraphale had been less afraid of a world where Crowley was captured, possibly tortured, perhaps discorporated unwillingly but still tangentially existing in Aziraphale’s circle of influence, than a world where there was no Crowley at all.
Was he still more comfortable with that? Was that what this was about? What would his plan have been if something had happened to Crowley? What was his plan right now if something happened to either of them? Today was in shambles and tomorrow, which was fast approaching, was uncertain. Was he prepared to fight his way out of Hell and knock down the pearly gates?
Somewhere, deep in his gut, there was a small warm spark of an answer. Yes .
“We’re going to be alright,” Aziraphale said.
“Hold on to that. One of us really should believe it.”
Crowley made a show of straightening his shirtsleeves and adjusting the waistcoat. He reached over and tilted Aziraphale’s wrist toward him so he could check the time on his large and overly complicated watch. “I’m going to find something less rumpled to wear. Can’t re-meet your maker without style. Come on, after I’ll teach you how to sleep.” He stepped around Aziraphale and left the dining room.
Aziraphale looked up toward the ceiling and ran his hand through Crowley’s hair. “We’re going to be alright,” he said again, and then followed after the demon.
. . .
After all was said and done there was only an hour for "sleeping". Aziraphale still didn't understand what pleasure Crowley could take from just going inert from time to time when there were so many unread books and unknown things left in the world, but he had to admit that just being quiet together was nice. It was a lot like when Crowley killed time lurking in his shop, just without the interruptions from misguided humans.
Crowley left his flat before the sun rose and they promised to meet at their bench in the park by mid-morning if they made it that long.
"Do me a favor, Angel?" he asked on his way out. "Water the plants before you go. Don't forget to motivate them." Then he did something that Aziraphale would not have expected of his demon if they had another million years on the earth. He leaned up and placed a small kiss on Aziraphale's forehead.
Aziraphale, in a state of shock just said, "My word."
Crowley nodded as if in agreement and left, leaving Aziraphale standing in his flat, in his body, and in a state of dawning understanding of what his life could be like if they succeeded. His anticipation rose with the sun. He went to water the plants.
He found a mister on the desk in Crowley's office. When he entered the room where Crowley kept all the plants the poor things began to shiver and he was worried that maybe they could sense he wasn't who he said he was, like dogs.
"It's okay," he said, spritzing the lush and verdant leaves. "You're all doing wonderfully. Really, good job on the growing. I must commend you. Keep it up!" He gave each one of them their own thumbs up.
By the time he left the room the plants had stopped shaking, but their leaves had turned up toward each other as if they were conferring. Aziraphale thought it was lovely how all of Crowley's plants got along so well. He hadn't even had to sing to them, which was going to be his last ditch motivational effort if they hadn't stopped shaking. It was just as well. He'd only had one song stuck in his head for the last twelve hours or so and that was Sergei Rachmaninoff's Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy. Definitely too blue for the wellbeing of the plants.
That one chore done Aziraphale moved on to practicing his slouching and looming and swanning about, because Crowley's body tended toward a slither in motion as well and Aziraphale really wasn't sure how he managed to move his hips That Way. With any luck none of the other demons would either.
As the morning hours ticked down he cleaned up and dressed in a fashion he thought Crowley would approve of. His one consolation to himself amidst the flashiness of Crowley's wardrobe was to hide a hint of tartan on his person. It made him feel more at home. Like moving into a new building and hanging a single piece of art before you began to unpack anything else, just so you could really start to visualize the place as yours.
Aziraphale supposed that in some ways Crowley's body was his. Or could be, if he wanted, but Aziraphale hadn't really had an interest up to now in the more prurient ways humans occupied each other and he didn't suppose he'd develop one any time soon. Still, the kiss had been nice. He wouldn't mind another one of those. If fate and the universe saw it fit to let both of them keep existing long enough for that to be possible anyway. More sleeping might be nice.
Crowley's watch ticked over to 11 am. Aziraphale said one final goodbye to the plants. He stopped at the mirror in Crowley's hallway to check over his appearance. Crowley’s eyes stared back out at him and he made a few of Crowley's more disapproving faces for practice. Then he stopped at the statue in the entryway and tried to put himself in the mindset of the Fallen which, if he was being honest with himself, was becoming easier by the day. He paused at the doorway with his hand on the knob and took a deep breath.
The future was unknown, but he could be certain. For the first time since he'd given away his sword he knew exactly where he was headed and what he wanted and, the ineffable willing, it would all settle in his favor.