It was raining and cold, as he pulled his overcoat tighter around his thin lithe frame to ward off the November chill. He stood in front of the old store. He could tell every tale about it, how it had been in the family for generations, dating back to the early 1600s. How the bookshop had always been meant as more of a library than an actual shop for selling the books. He could tell you about the three children that were raised within it’s walls, how those three children had grown into men and one woman, how they had become successful adults. He could talk about their loves and hates, their sorrows and passions, first kisses, and other firsts that he wouldn’t tell anyone about.
He reached out, reverence in his shaking hand as he pressed it to the old wood and brick frame of a building that had existed far longer than him.
It had been nearly eight years since he’d last seen this door frame, since he’d last set foot in this shop. It had been his home away from home, his shelter against a horrible childhood and even more wretched teen years. It had been where he’d first discovered love, where he’d learned what unconditional love meant.
His heart ached with the building as if it were mourning the passing of another one of its owners. Six months ago now, but this was the first he could get here. His own life a mess, it had only just started getting back to some semblance of normal. With a deep, shaky breath that was filled with nerves, he pushed the door open, hearing the small bell over the door chime at his entrance.
It was just like he recalled--the smell of books, ancient and new, the scent of wood, old and slightly stale papers, and candles. There were a few people by the various shelves which were lined with old and new books alike and in the middle of the store stood a table with a globe on it. The feeling was one of warmth and love. He could sense it all around him, the memories, the happiness. He saw flashes of himself, much younger, running around chasing the little blonde haired boy as they giggled. His teenage self kissing the blonde up against the bookshelves, their first time on the blonde's bed upstairs above the shop all the memories rushing towards him.
“Can I help—” the slight intake of air was enough to bring him back to awareness and his eyes shot over to look at the man before him. Certainly, the other man had aged, but to his eyes his old friend was just as beautiful and wonderful as he remembered him from eight years ago. He was a bit stockier around the middle, but his friend's eyes were still a beautiful ice blue, and his face still angelic as it filled with delight.
“Crowley,” the whisper was filled with love and emotion.
“Hello Aziraphale,” Crowley replied, his tenor voice filled with an equal amount of happiness. Oh, how he’d missed this man before him.
Aziraphale moved closer as if afraid Crowley might disappear. He reached out, with a shaking hand, to touch Crowley’s chiseled chin and cheekbones. It stopped short.
“I’m not allowed to anymore, am I?” Aziraphale questioned.
Crowley reached out and grabbed the brilliant man by his shoulder, pulling him in close for a hug. The two men latched onto one another as if they were their final lifelines.
“Always, Aziraphale, always,” he murmured as Aziraphale pressed his face to Crowley’s neck.
“I’m so sorry I couldn’t come earlier,” Crowley offered.
Aziraphale let out a small wet laugh. “Quite all right, dear boy. You’re here now,” after another long moment of embrace, he stepped back and looked Crowley up and down. “My goodness, you’re handsome,” he smiled.
Crowley laughed, gripping one of Aziraphale’s hands in his own. “You said I was handsome when we were just wee things,” he replied.
Aziraphale nodded. “It’s true you always were. How are you, Crowley? How’s…how’s marriage suiting you,” he choked on the last word, his heart breaking with the knowledge that it should’ve been him married to Crowley.
Crowley wrapped an arm around his friend’s shoulder and gave him a sad smile. “I’m not married anymore. Didn’t work out,” he offered as if that explained everything.
Crowley knew he’d have to tell his friend everything at some point, but for now, he prayed it would be enough for his best friend. The past eight years hadn’t been kind to Crowley, they had been the hardest years of his life and it showed. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept through the night. Then again, he couldn’t recall the last time his children had slept through the night.
“Do you have some time to sit and chat?” Aziraphale asked, snapping Crowley out of his thoughts once more.
Crowley glanced at his watch and smiled. “I actually have to run a real quick errand, if you’d like to join, then perhaps we can come back here for tea and hot cocoa?” Crowley said a silent prayer that his friend would want to. Crowley knew it had to be weird, your best friend coming back after all this time, only to then leave immediately, but Crowley had come down here because he needed stability in his life again. He needed a constant, and Aziraphale had always been that constant for him.
Aziraphale beamed at that. “I would love to! Newt!” he called back over his shoulder and a young man who’d been bringing books out from the back, his arms laden with a number of larger materials, met Aziraphale’s gaze. “I’m going out for a walk. feel free to close up while I’m gone, and I will lock up once I get back.”
Newt gave him a solemn nod and Aziraphale grabbed his jacket near the door, along with a large umbrella. They stepped back into the rain. “Newton Pulsifer, he’s an odd sort, quiet, terrible with computers. But he works hard and he’s smart, hired him shortly after da’ died.”
“I was at the funeral, in the back,” Crowley mentioned as they walked along the street of Soho. Every so often, Crowley’s eyes would flicker across the people they passed, assessing faces and looking for a familiar one, or perhaps a familiar two these days. He had to mentally shake himself; she didn’t know where he was. He’d gone to great lengths to hide them. Crowley tried not to jump and jerk away when one passerby bumped into him.
“You should’ve stopped and said hello,” Aziraphale replied, watching his friends new habits. Crowley had always been jumpy, came from a childhood where your father used you more as a punching bag than child. But this was a new level of something. Aziraphale forced a smile at his old friend, wondering what had brought Crowley to his front door this day? After all, it had been eight years of radio silence. But then, another part of Aziraphale’s mind remembered how much he had missed this man, he had missed the ease with which they spoke, were able to just be around one another. Perhaps it wasn’t right to question it just yet, for now he should be grateful he supposed.
“I’ll be honest, things have been,” Crowley shrugged, “difficult lately, and that’s putting it mildly. A lot has been going on, and much of it not good. There are a couple of people I want you to meet first, and then we can catch up properly.” Crowley wasn’t even sure where to begin, or how to begin, he hadn’t told anyone what was going on, well he’d told Jacob’s counselor of course, and the social workers, but other than that no one knew what was going on in his world. Crowley struggled to wrap his brain around all of it, really. Crowley didn’t want to be seen as weak.
They stopped in front of the Soho Primary school and family center, just as the doors burst open and kids started pouring out. Aziraphale couldn’t express his excitement at the idea that perhaps Crowley had a child. He’d always thought Crowley would make a wonderful father and to his delight, he was right.
“Daddy!” a delighted squeal echoed through the air, before Crowley swept a small child, no more than three or four off her feet and into his arms. He whirled the little one around, pressing a kiss to the chubby little cheek, before bringing her to rest on his hip. To Aziraphale’s surprise, a second child hurried up and clung to Crowley’s leg.
“Aziraphale, I’d like you to meet my son and daughter, this is Jacob and Madi,” Crowley’s large hand rested gently on the boy’s soft red hair. “Madi, Jake, I’d like you to meet my dear friend Aziraphale, or as I’ve spoken of him, Zira.”
Aziraphale felt his cheeks warm with the knowledge that Crowley had spoken of him to his children. Madi was burying her face in Crowley’s neck, hiding, clearly the shyer of the two. But Jake was looking up at him with big hazel brown eyes. “Daddy talks about you all the time!” Jake said excitedly as he grabbed Aziraphale’s hand. The boy was the spitting image of his father, with sharp facial features, gangly legs and arms--yet somehow despite being barely six it seemed the boy had far more grace than his father ever did.
Together the four headed back to the Soho bookshop, Aziraphale holding the boy’s hand, while Madi curled against her father’s chest. All the while Jake animatedly told them both about his day. Aziraphale was delighted to be included in such a special treat, but as he watched Crowley continue to eyeball every person who passed by, and clutch his daughter closer to his chest something in Aziraphale grew hard and cold. The child was gripping her father’s shirt, as though she was fearful of letting go. Whatever brought Crowley here, brought his children here, it wasn’t good, and clearly Crowley sought out Aziraphale because he needed a friend he could trust. As Aziraphale squeezed Jacob’s hand, he gave the boy an excited smile and nod, then glancing at Crowley, who afforded him a tight smile, the bookshop owner made a promise to himself that—whoever--had done this to his love, would never, ever hurt any of them again.