On the whole, the end of the world had turned out pretty well for Aziraphale. He’d kept his sushi, his precious bookshop, his corporeal form, and, fortuitously, his wine collection. The ducks were still there, and France was still there, which meant, thank goodness, that crepes at La Creperie Bretonne were still there.
Cronuts were still there, too, unfortunately, but you couldn’t have everything.
And the silence from Heaven, well … it was nice.
Aziraphale had always suspected that Heaven was never really that pleased with his work, and had lived with a sort of anticipatory guilt for most of his time on Earth. So it was … yes, it was nice to have a bit of freedom and live without feeling accountable to anyone. The anticipation of waiting for the other shoe to drop was easy to ignore for the moment, since he and Crowley had both agreed it would be quite some time until Things Got Real again.
So for now it was lunches at the Ritz and walks in the park and occasionally the odd bout of flying too-low through the streets of London and smothering giggles into Crowley’s shoulder on the roof of parliament afterwards.
In fact, there was quite a lot of Crowley, in general.
And that was … nice, too.
In addition to the lunches and the flying, they had nights at the opera that ended in bickering over the soprano, and lazy mornings sharing pastries in sunny corners of the bookshop, and leisurely visits to Tadfield with multiple stops for picnics.
They talked about taking a mini-break somewhere. Spain, maybe. Crowley knew of a village with a boutique distillery where he swore the brandy was as good as it had been in 1692.
Life was as good as it ever had been.
So it was something of a surprise when Crowley appeared at the bookshop door very late one evening, with his hands in his pockets, his shoulders up by his ears, and his jaw visibly clenching and unclenching. He prowled around the tiny bookshop squinting at knickknacks and first editions with derision, throwing Aziraphale quite off-kilter.
“Do – do sit down,” he said, unsettled, as he sat and fussed with arranging the tea things on the tray. “Tea? Or – or something stronger, perhaps?”
“It’s fine, angel,” Crowley muttered, digging his hands further into his pocket and slouching further into the room. “I haven’t come to stay.”
“Oh. I see,” said Aziraphale helplessly, though he didn’t.
Something felt … wrong. Off. The demon was inscrutable at the best of times, but this was different. Agitation was rolling off him in waves. What could it be?
“Angel,” he said abruptly, halting his pacing suddenly and looking around the room, anywhere but at Aziraphale. “I’m going to go away.”
“Oh, a holiday?” Aziraphale said, delighted, though puzzled by Crowley’s attitude. “How perfect, where shall we go? I’ve thought more about that village in Spain, and I think it will be just the thing-“
“No,” Crowley interrupted. “I’m going away. Alone. To somewhere - else. Not here.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale said, and lowered the tea cup he’d been about to offer to Crowley. “Oh, I see. Well, uh, when … when will you go?”
“Soon,” Crowley said shortly. “Very soon.”
“Right. Right, yes of course. Do you know where you’ll go?”
There was a pause and Crowley’s jaw clenched and unclenched in the silence. Aziraphale cast around for something to say.
“Is there – is there anything I can do for you? While you’re away, I mean? Water the plants, perhaps?”
If possible, Crowley tensed even more.
“No. No, there’s nothing you can do.”
Aziraphale once nodded with a faint, uneasy smile.
“Well. Well, then. That’s just. Tickety boo, I suppose. And um … do you know when you’ll be back?”
The word hung in the air between them and Aziraphale fidgeted briefly before standing and moving cautiously over to the demon. Crowley was strung so tightly Aziraphale feared to make even the smallest wrong move. He carefully put a hand to Crowley’s arm.
“Is everything all right, dear?” He asked softly, trying to peer into Crowley’s face, past the sunglasses that only reflected his face back to him. “Only – this is so sudden. I thought … well, everything’s been going so well. So nicely. I wasn’t expecting …” he trailed off.
“Wasn’t expecting ..?” Crowley prodded, glancing at him.
“I wasn’t expecting you to leave, I suppose,” Aziraphale said, shrugging slightly. “What with the Apocawhoops and all, I thought we were going to take a break, you know. See what happened.”
“And us, angel? What would happen with us?”
Happen with them? Aziraphale thought in bewilderment. What could he possibly mean?
But Crowley was looking at him intently, his lips pressed together tightly. His entire demeanour screamed this is important.
“Well, we would be … friends, I suppose,” the angel said slowly. “Yes, good friends, I should think.”
At his words, whatever had been holding Crowley together seemed to give way, and all the tension instantly bled out of him.
“Friends,” he repeated heavily.
“Best friends,” Aziraphale amended anxiously, looking into his face again. “Oh dear, have I said the wrong thing? I do want to be friends with you, dear, I do. I’m sorry about what I said before, about not liking you. You must know I do like you, very much. Oh I have said the wrong thing, haven’t I?“
“No, angel,” Crowley sighed, cutting him off. “You haven’t said the wrong thing at all.”
He patted Aziraphale’s hand where it still rested on his arm, and then gently slid out from underneath it.
“Well, I’ll see you ‘round, angel,” he said as he made his way through the shop, his voice strangely flat. “Don’t forget me, will you?”
“Forget you?” Aziraphale echoed in alarm, hurrying after him. “Just how long do you plan on being gone?”
Crowley paused in the doorway and turned, looking straight at Aziraphale for what felt like the first time in this strange, unnerving visit. The look on his face struck Aziraphale hard in the chest and pinned him to the spot. Crowley looked haggard, the dim light from the back room turning his familiar features into sharp angles and dark shadows. Quite without knowing why, fear began to well up inside of him, tumbling over itself to get his attention.
“Take care, angel,” Crowley said finally, before turning on his heel and disappearing into the night.
After that puzzling evening, Aziraphale toddled on with his life just as calmly as before. He made himself content with his books, his walks, his sushi. He even went back to work, unofficially, sitting on park benches soothing tormented souls with a few kind words and a listening ear.
He broke up a drug smuggling ring quite by accident, and started to call up Crowley to tell him about it, before remembering that Crowley was not there to listen anymore.
He also lost a bit of weight, what with having to walk everywhere these days, and fewer excuses for ice creams and nobody to bring him boxes of little praline chocolates.
He never did go back to the Ritz, though he couldn’t have said why, and always told himself, next week.
One day, a few months after Crowley had left, Aziraphale decided to just check up on the plants, after all. Plants did need water, didn’t they? No matter how their master may have threatened to deal with them should they presume to wilt or die in his absence.
He took the long way round to Crowley’s flat, working a few miracles as he went. He was definitely not dawdling.
He sidled past the doorman when he reached the ultra-modern apartment complex, and made his way up to Crowley’s flat. He hesitated for a moment on the threshold, before giving a little cough and leaning into the door, which was surprised to find itself swinging open easily.
Aziraphale stepped inside and blinked.
This was not Crowley’s apartment.
The elegant, uncomfortable furnishings were gone, replaced with soft, cream couches and rustic wooden tables and chairs. A mandala hung from one wall, and the room that contained Crowley’s beloved houseplants was … simply not there.
Crowley’s throne and the they’re-fighting-angel-obviously statue were also missing.
Blushing, Aziraphale backed out of the apartment, thanking whoever was listening that the tenants of the flat he’d just invaded were not home.
He glanced at the door number again to orient himself, and stopped.
No, this had to be Crowley’s apartment.
And yet, it couldn’t be.
He opened the door again, more cautiously this time.
On this second look, his eye fell on a familiar dark stain on the floor in the doorway of Crowley’s throne room.
This was definitely Crowley’s apartment.
But apparently Crowley did not live here anymore.
“Well,” Aziraphale said to himself, straightening his jacket. “Well then. Right. Jolly good. Um.”
On his way out, Aziraphale paused to ask the doorman about the tall, flashy man who used to live in the building.
“Oh, him?” The doorman said, still wondering who this impeccably dressed gentleman was and how he’d gotten into the building. “Yeah, I remember him. Came down one day and gave me an entire blooming nursery’s worth of house plants. Beautiful, glossy things, never seen the like. Told me not to be too nice to them, said it’d make them soft or something. Odd thing to say, if you ask me.”
Aziraphale started to feel a bit faint. Crowley had given away his plants?
“Did he uh say when he might be back?” He asked the doorman weakly.
The doorman eyed him suspiciously.
“You’re sure he was a friend of yours? It’s only, he sold up, you see. And I’d have thought he’d have told a friend he was thinking of selling?”
“We uh haven’t been in touch. Recently.” Aziraphale said, around a suddenly dry mouth. “Well, thank you for your help. And look after those plants, will you? Good day, sir.”
He hurried away from the bemused doorman and out onto the busy street, where he could take a moment to gulp in unnecessary lungfulls of air. Crowley had given away his plants and sold his apartment? It couldn’t be. He’d had that apartment (and some of those plants) for over a hundred years (it had always been an ultra-modern apartment block, the modern-est for each of its centuries since it initially came into being).
Aziraphale hurried quickly away from the building, dabbing his forehead with a handkerchief. This was all very confusing.
He stopped for a moment on the first street corner, and felt himself go cold all over when he spotted something in a tiny alleyway.
It couldn’t be.
Darting a look over his shoulder, he ducked into the alleyway and crept closer to what couldn’t be – but it was.
Crowley’s Bentley was parked, abandoned, tucked away in an alleyway.
Aziraphale rested a shaking hand on the Bentley’s hood, which was beginning to show signs of grime from the city, for the first time in its history.
Crowley had left the Bentley behind.
Crowley and the Bentley had been together even longer than Crowley and the ultra-modern apartment. They’d travelled continents together (and Aziraphale still didn’t know how he’d got the Bentley to India, and he didn’t want to know), faced apocalypses together. Crowley and the Bentley were like - were like – well, Britain and tea.
And now it was here, abandoned, griming and decaying. Unloved.
If Crowley didn’t want the Bentley anymore, and the Bentley was Crowley, then Crowley clearly didn’t want to be Crowley anymore.
Back at the bookshop, Aziraphale stared at the badly-parked Bentley sitting outside his shop. He’d shakily driven it back, fretfully biting back curses the whole way, trying very hard to remember the one or two lessons Crowley had given him before they’d both given it up as a bad job. Luckily the Bentley knew a thing or two about driving to Soho and had taken a guiding hand, as it were.
Aziraphale hadn’t been able to bring himself to just leave it in that alleyway. Better to have it here, under his protection, such as it was.
But what did it all mean, Crowley abandoning his Bentley and giving away his plants, and selling his apartment?
Surely it didn’t – surely it couldn’t mean that Crowley wasn’t coming back? Ever? London had been their home for years – far longer than anywhere else they’d ever been.
They belonged here, both of them.
But Aziraphale’s skin prickled as he remembered that strange wild energy that had hung around Crowley on that night he’d said goodbye. How tense he’d been, how he’d looked around the bookshop at the little knickknacks like he’d never see them again, and … and the expression on his face when he’d looked Aziraphale himself. Like he had one last moment to store up all his future memories, because there’d never be another one.
Well, if it did … if it did mean that Crowley wasn’t planning on coming back to London, then … then Aziraphale just had to keep on getting on with things, didn’t he? Crowley would turn up eventually, surely. He always did, even if he didn’t mean to stay. ‘Popping in for a quick temptation’ and all that. They’d not been apart for more than a few years since … well, since the arrangement began, really. Crowley was always showing up unexpectedly to drop some bombs on some Nazis, or ask for a favour, or, or, just to chat.
After all, there was nobody else in the whole world who truly understood what they’d been through. What they’d seen. Nobody knew the world like they did. Nobody even knew who they were, really, except each other. Who else could understand sentences like, “Do you remember Caesar’s face though?” and “Rain hasn’t really changed much, has it?”
So, Crowley would be back, eventually, and Aziraphale would just have to … wait.
It took four years without even a postcard for Aziraphale to realise Crowley was not coming back.
When he did realise – paying for his ice cream from the vendor in St James Park, who still kept trying to sell him an ice lolly for his friend – everything seemed to stop, just for a moment. Not like the way Crowley stopped it during the Apocawasn’t, just the normal, human reaction to something so monstrously big that sensory processing simply grinds to a halt.
Crowley wasn’t coming back.
There were to be no more dinners at the Ritz, no picnics, no feeding the ducks, no rare books landing suddenly on his desk that Crowley had ‘just stumbled upon’, no bitching over very good wine about Aziraphale’s bow ties or reluctance to get a mobile device.
No too-fast drives in the Bentley with be-pop blasting through the speakers.
No sitting down on his couch to the faint and familiar scent of Crowley rising up from the cushions, or the delightful little jingle of the bell over the door that only Crowley could make.
Gone was the strange little tug in his chest whenever Crowley appeared, at the bookshop or on the park bench, or pulling up conveniently in the Bentley whenever the rain started. And gone was the fond look in his beautiful yellow eyes whenever Aziraphale begged the final bite of dessert, or fussed about paint spots on his favourite jacket.
The realisation was followed swiftly by the feeling that a light had suddenly gone out in his life.
And it wasn’t even just that Crowley had left, it was that Crowley had left and Aziraphale didn’t know why.
He couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling that he’d had something to do with it. Something had gone wrong that night in the bookshop. And Crowley had left.
But what? What could he have missed?
He walked around St James Park three times, and twice around the block in Soho before he had anything like an answer. It came to him as he approached the bookshop for the final time, thoughts running over every moment of that strange, tense evening.
“And us, angel? What would happen with us?”
What did that mean? Why would Crowley want to know what was going to happen between them? They were friends. Sure, Aziraphale had had some trouble coming to terms with that over the years, but he thought Crowley knew how he felt now. So what could Crowley want, apart from friendship? Best friendship?
And why had he left when he hadn’t got it?
A passing car radio suddenly blared to life, or maybe it was from the Bentley itself: He loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. He loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.
A step inside the bookshop, Aziraphale dropped his keys.
A second later, his hand flew to his mouth and his eyes widened.
Oh dear indeed.
Crowley … Crowley wanted … Crowley had wanted Aziraphale to love him.
Crowley had wanted Aziraphale to love him and Aziraphale had offered him friendship. And Crowley had left.
Trembling, Aziraphale stood blankly in the doorway of his bookshop as his mind raced back in time, reassembling every moment of his entire history with Crowley.
Anywhere you want to go.
Shall I say thank you? Best not.
We can go away together.
Oh this was all so very Not Good.
He’d been so, so blind and had driven Crowley away, when Crowley could have had … Crowley could have had everything.
He wasn’t much of an angel by anyone’s standards, but if Crowley had wanted him, all Crowley had had to do was ask. Because the simple fact of acknowledging that Crowley could have been in love with him was rapidly uncovering another well-hidden secret, so well-hidden even he hadn’t known it but now couldn’t deny it.
He was in love with Crowley.
Every flash of that red hair, that crooked grin, the superior stylish clothes, the dark glasses, had lit him up from the inside like nothing else ever had. Across smoky bars and chariot races, sodden marshes and barren airbases. It had always been him.
Crowley who had all the answers, who knew the best shortcuts, who’d hung the stars, who’d called him angel, who’d trusted him to share his thoughts and his incessant questions with. Who’d hissed a fire ball at Gabriel for the way he spoke to Aziraphale (Crowley had been shaking with rage when he recounted it to Aziraphale afterwards and Aziraphale had thought nothing of it – how blind he had been).
Who’d left his Bentley and his plants and his apartment behind when he’d had enough of waiting for Aziraphale to catch the hell up.
“Oh dear. Oh deary, deary me,” Aziraphale moaned softly to himself, wringing his hands.
Just then, his letterbox slot opened to admit a letter.
He was sent so few letters that this was really a very unusual occurrence.
He paused his crisis to investigate.
The letter was written on crisp, modern writing paper and this is what it said:
It turns out that Agnes wrote another book, The Further Nice and Accurate Prophecies. But Newt and I burnt it, sorry about that.
Found this one under the couch, though. I think it belongs to you.
All my best,
Attached to the crisp modern note was the same thick, ancient paper stock as the rest of Agnes’s prophecies.
4451 Find him, ye old fool.
Find him. Right. Well that was going to take some thought.
After all, one did not simply dash after one’s companion of 6000 years to tell him they loved him and beg for forgiveness, without a plan.
So first things first. Aziraphale was going to learn to drive.
After six months of preparation – learning to drive (with much gentle encouragement from a Bentley who missed being driven by someone who knew where top gear was), buying appropriate driving gloves, and tying up loose ends – Aziraphale was ready.
He stepped out onto the street on the morning he was to begin his quest, feeling very positive indeed. After all, he had a new bow tie and waistcoat and the driving gloves were rather dashing.
Sliding into the driver’s seat of the Bentley, however, hadn’t gotten any easier.
Every time he sat there he was struck by the very oddness of it and by the way Crowley’s scent still lingered in the air, surrounding him.
He couldn’t help running his hands over the steering wheel for just a moment, beset by countless visions of Crowley slouching his way through the London traffic, hands curled lazily around the same soft leather. Or leaning carelessly against the door frame driving with one hand, the other making quick stabbing motions through the air as he ranted on his favourite topic of the month. Or sliding his eyes sideways to see how his latest teasing comment had landed, gaze meeting Aziraphale’s for just a second before darting away.
“Really now, do buck up, there’s a good chap,” he muttered, shaking his head so the visions fell away. “Let’s just see about this, then, shall we?”
He started the Bentley’s engine, put his hands around the wheel and … waited.
Because here was the thing, the thing he’d been avoiding thinking about this whole time.
He actually didn’t know where Crowley was.
Crowley hadn’t sent a single postcard in the whole time he’d been gone, and Aziraphale’s sense of the demon was no more useful than a vague feeling that he should go south east.
But he did have one trick up his sleeve, as it were.
Although he didn’t know Crowley’s reasons for abandoning the Bentley, his actions had inadvertently given Aziraphale the means to find him.
For, in the same way he’d seen dog owners do on television, he expected that as soon as he said, ‘find Crowley’, the Bentley would engage its own innate sense of loyalty and that would be that.
Now, whether this is actually what happened, or whether Aziraphale’s hopes were so tightly wound up in his scheme that a little bit of heavenly razzle dazzle slipped out, is unclear.
The fact is that after about 10 minutes of gently patting the steering wheel and checking that yes, he’d brought the thermos, Aziraphale had the strangest urge to start driving towards Dover.
So he did.