The first thing Crowley did when it was all finally over was take a long, hot shower.
The shower itself was huge, the size of two or three standard bathrooms at least. Several showerheads filled the entire area with water and steam. He had it built that way, compromising his extra bedroom (and moderately low water bill) in exchange for that comfort, which he always considered a very fair trade.
With hiding his wings rendered unnecessary in his solitude, Crowley let them spread wide, fanning out his feathers just enough to give them room to soak, without drenching the downy ones underneath. They shuddered involuntarily as he stretched from his shoulder blades, cracking his back in the process, and he released a very contented sigh. In that moment, he almost wished he’d put his bed in that room, as very few things sounded more wonderful than a long nap with outstretched wings and water collecting like dew in his feathers.
Being a demon, he didn’t need to sleep, but he didn’t need to drink, either. One of Earth’s many small pleasures, really.
Though the water wouldn’t run cold, Crowley really was tired, and drying those enormous wings was - while soothing, a rather involved process. Most demons wouldn’t bother, and Crowley could always snap the water away, but softness and luster came from care, not magic. So he shut off the water, shaking the feathers out and flapping twice. After about forty-five minutes of gentle towling, preening, and grooming with oil and a soft brush, he finally laid down to take a nap.
It felt as though he had just barely shut his eyes when he felt a presence in his room.
“Crowley.” The voice was unmistakable.
“Aziraphale…” Hardly awake, Crowley squinted. Indeed, the angel stood not three feet away, though Crowley couldn’t make out the expression on his face yet.
“Yes. Hello. So sorry to wake you.” Aziraphale said. Then, with a slightly guilty look, produced a cup of water, which he immediately offered.
Crowley folded in his wings and sat up, quietly thanking himself from...20…? 30 minutes ago for going to bed in pyjamas instead of nothing. “Thank you, angel.” He said, taking the water. “Don’t you have...what was it? A cup of cocoa calling your name?”
“...Never got around to it, I’m afraid.” Aziraphale replied before taking a seat on the bed next to Crowley. “In fact, I barely made it into the bookshop.”
Aziraphale furrowed his eyebrows slightly, looking downward. “Something was...off.”
“Off? What do you mean, off? Everything should be right where it was. I checked this morning.”
“It isn’t that.”
Aziraphale drummed his fingers against his legs. Crowley, somewhat concerned, but certain he could fix whatever was amiss around the bookshop with little issue, took a drink of water.
“...I feel...you know, I feel flashes of love. At times. If it’s strong enough.” He began. “It’s a lingering presence, and it’s usually quite faint. Stronger at hospitals, I’m sure you can imagine why, but…”
He trailed off, deep in thought. Crowley simply waited for him to finish.
“...But...I have never, in all of my years as an angel, felt the presence of love like that.”
Crowley coughed violently in an instant, sending the water he was drinking right up into his sinuses.
“Crowley! Are you alright?”
“A...ah...sorry, I’m...nnh. Just…”
Shit shit shit shit shit!
It took him about twenty seconds to think to snap his fingers and dissolve the water. Great! Now the only pain he felt was the knot developing in his stomach, snaking up and constricting the base of his throat.
“Wee..ahh..oohuh…hhh... well ...angel…” Crowley tried connecting his thoughts to words, or...forming any thoughts in the first place beyond FUCK! SHIT! “Clearly we should...uh...investigate, right? Together? Yes?”
“You know. We uhhhahh...we know he uh... they , I mean, we know they’re more...capable of love than most things? People? Right?” Crowley gestured with his hand and his wing at the same time, knocking a picture off his side table in the process.
“You think that’s true?” Aziraphale asked, paying no mind to Crowley trying to get his stupid limbs and wings under fucking control. “I thought...if something had happened in my shop while I wasn’t there, maybe I could-”
“No! Yeah! I definitely...I definitely think so.” Crowley said. “I mean we have the uh...three horsemen, right? Four? Maybe there’s uh...maybe there’s a love...horseman, somewhere. Came to visit your shop when we stopped the others!”
“Hmm...well when you put it like that…”
Aziraphale perked up, bouncing to his feet. “A supernatural love entity! That would explain things!” He said.
Crowley was able to relax just a bit .
Scrodinger’s cat was bullshit. Everyone knew that. Crowley especially knew that - he met the guy himself. Granted, he didn’t understand shit-all of what he was talking about. But being someone who had almost made an art of constantly saying the most incomprehensible shit of all time, he’d learned to pick up on a few things.
Anyway, of course the cat wasn’t alive and dead at the same time. It’s only a matter of denial - humans putting off the processing of their own grief, as humans do. Look in the box, the cat is dead. Probably. Maybe not. But either way, denial never brought anything back to life.
Demons didn’t feel grief. Neither did angels, but that didn’t apply anymore. For them, the box was always open.
But in the bookshop, when Crowley was knocked off his feet, he realized that he was using all the strength he had in him to clamp the catbox shut.
An anaconda wrapped five times around a steel vault, body working against its own will and threatening to crush it into shards.
As he struggled to sit up, the box flew open, and the cat inside was dead.
Aziraphale was dead.
And in holding that box shut, Crowley held a thin sheet of glass above him from shattering. But it was gone - fragments falling like acid rain in the millions onto his skin. And the ocean - every ocean - every cosmic space held up by that fragile pane, swallowed and crushed him in the pressure of their depths.
There was no surfacing. Not ever.
Not with screaming. Not with crying. Not with the absolute annihilation of every ethereal and demonic force that made the mistake of outliving his best friend. Of…
...Of outliving the love of his life.
...Six thousand years. Six thousand years of knowing that angel - who was always kind to the point of compromising orders, and always gentle to the point of offering warmth to a natural, god-ordained enemy, and who loved his books and his lunches and his best friend utterly unreservedly. Six thousand years of falling in love with him. Of sleeping for centuries to enter a world where he could love him back.
Crowley screamed. Everything he had ever felt surfaced in that room. It seeped into the pores of the walls, into the fibers of the carpet, into the ink of the burning books.
“So!” Aziraphale clapped his hands together. “I have been thinking. We know that Death is still around. I saw him earlier today, in fact! I mean, it’s meant to be bad luck, of course. And luck isn’t something we should be pushing, but...nevertheless, he would know, wouldn’t he?”
“You really think Death himself will show up just for this?”
“Well, we never know! If it is another... entity like them, he could be recruiting, what with the other three gone.”
“So...Death would replace War, Pollution and Famine with...what? Love? Cocktails on the beach? Sleeping for five hundred years?”
“Oh I love cocktails on the beach...why have we never done that?”
“Tend to stay away from beaches, you know. Demons can’t swim. I mean, I can’t, at least. Sink like a rock, me. Tide comes in, I’ll get...swept off, hell knows where.”
“Well you wouldn’t have to go in the water. We could...we could bring umbrellas!”
“We could bring umbrellas anywhere, angel!” Crowley snorted. “...But yes. We can have a...beach day. Provided you don’t take your eyes off of me. Because if I get discorporated now , we’re as good as fucked.”
“Oh! I rarely do.” Aziraphale replied.
Crowley readjusted his sunglasses, ensuring that no part of his eyes were visible after that.
They spent the better part of the hour looking around aimlessly for Death, which was, as Aziraphale pointed out, bad luck anyway . Unfortunately, Crowley hadn’t spent that time coming up with a second goose chase to send the angel on, so when Aziraphale decided to give up, he had to come up with something on the fly.
...By the very nature of that necessity, it wasn’t the most well formed plan.
“What about Tadfield?”
“That uh...book girl and her...boyfriend. Tall guy. Way beneath her league. Tragically so.”
“Oh! What about them?”
“I mean, they could’ve...her book was in your shop, right? Maybe their...whatever they have rubbed off on it.”
“...That...sounds unusual. Are you certain that’s a viable lead to pursue?”
“Ehh…” Crowley gestured with his hands. “You know... eehah ...process of elimination and all that, right? Couldn’t hurt.”
Aziraphale pursed his lips. “I suppose not...but it does seem unlikely, doesn’t it?”
“That’s how process of elimination works!” Crowley answered, already fumbling with his keys. “We couldn’t rule it out without an investigation, yeah? Good! Let’s go.”
The angel looked like he almost said something, but relented.
The trip to Tadfield marked the first time Crowley went anywhere near the speed limit. Still ten to fifteen miles an hour over, of course. He wasn’t losing his mind.
But what he was losing was time to think of where to throw Aziraphale off next. Thinking wasn’t his strong suit, really. Never was.
So, what? Track down the mailman who delivered the weapons to the Horsemen? Ask if he had a... fuck if he knew - bow and heart-shaped arrow in the back of his truck? That’d make sense for some love entity to have, right? Or maybe he could miracle-in some evidence of a young couple experiencing their first.. .physical expression of love inside the bookshop. That one would definitely distress Aziraphale, but it might be enough to make him drop the whole thing…
Why did Crowley suggest he come along? It wasn’t like there was a signature the angel could trace back to him. He probably wouldn’t consider it, either, given that in six thousand years he never figured it out. So all Crowley did was shoot himself in the foot. And not with a paintball gun this time.
The one mercy in this whole mess was that, with Adam’s protective barrier over the town gone, Crowley and Aziraphale had little issue tracking down Anathema and Newt in the middle of a little field. Both looked equally surprised to see them.
“Ahem! Pardon our interruptions - “ Aziraphale started. “But we came here wondering if, by chance, you two are in love.”
The man, Newt, looked bashfully at Anathema, as though he expected her to look bashfully back. “ Well, we…”
Instead, she cut him off. “No, we’re not. Why?”
Newt looked mildly disappointed. Aziraphale more so.
“...Oh, there’s no reason at all. Thank you for your cooperation.” He said.
Turning back to Crowley, the two began to walk back to the car.
“...I simply don’t understand this.” He said. “I’m certainly out of ideas. Perhaps we should call it an evening.”
Crowley tried not to make his relief too obvious. Even if this would continue the next day, that would still allow him good few hours to come up with something else. Hopefully after a few more days of that , Aziraphale would get bored enough of the mystery to leave it behind - forever left on the list of strange things that happened to them in the time around the Apocalypse.
Crowley suggested they go drinking. He knew of a nice bar in town.
The moment they crossed the threshold, his mistake dawned on him. Aziraphale stopped in his tracks.
Shit shit shit SHIT YOU IDIOT
“This is...this is the same trace!” He cried out excitedly. “Crowley! You are brilliant!”
Aziraphale was wrong, of course. Crowley was an imbecile.
Always had been, was presently, forever would be.
Crowley’s stomach dropped again. He suddenly felt sick enough that he knew alcohol was going to hurt him, but distressed enough to know he needed it. He rushed to the one open table still available (miraculously) and called for a full bottle of...well, three different things he pointed at before even sitting down.
They came to him quickly. Scotch, gin and port wine. Whatever. He heard from someone somewhere that mixing liquors made you drunker. He didn’t know if that were the case, but he poured all three of them into a glass anyway.
Aziraphale was marveling at the fact that their location had the same outpouring of love as the bookshop, and going on and on about how they could use this to narrow it down, and Crowley could barely follow any of it. It was as though Aziraphale’s words echoed in a room two or three doors down from here.
In this one, there was only panic.
“Crowley...are you alright?” Aziraphale asked, suddenly very serious. “I can’t imagine that was too much for you…”
“‘M fine, angel. Sorry.” He said, waving his hand again.
Aziraphale frowned. “You know, if you want to sober up -”
“Him? Ha!” The cocktail waiter said, pouring a glass of wine for Aziraphale. “This guy racked up the biggest tab I’d ever seen, yesterday! Hardly seemed to do anything. Talked to himself a bit, but you know! We’ve seen a lot worse!”
Oh, it would take a miracle for Aziraphale not to put two and two together, now.
...But looking up from behind his glass, Crowley realized it was too late for that.
He was so still that Crowley wondered for a moment if he stopped time on accident.
Crowley snapped. In an instant, what looked like a mountain of cash appeared on the table. He paid no mind to counting it out before he was dashing out the door.
“I...where the hell do you think you’re going!” Aziraphale finally thought to say, pushing past his own instinct to completely freeze up.
Crowley allowed him fall into step with him, despite wanting more than anything to sprint away and dive into the Bentley, never to be seen again.
“Is this really a conversation you want to have here?” Crowley asked, still not sober, still breathing a hundred miles a minute, still trembling as though his true form were a chihuahua and not a snake.
Aziraphale sped up, suddenly getting in front of Crowley and blocking his path.
“...Sober up. I will meet you at your flat in half an hour. We can discuss this then. Alright?”
After a moment, Crowley nodded.
The next half hour was excruciating.
Aziraphale knew it was him. He knew .
After six thousand years, Aziraphale knew that Crowley was deeply, desperately, impossibly in love with him.
And what did that trace even tell him? Now that Aziraphale would know it was him, did he know that he dreamed of him? That he imagined what their first kiss could be like? Their... first time?
Did Aziraphale know that Crowley had wondered for ages about the logistics of supernatural beings getting married?
Did he know that Crowley wanted to marry him?
Before he could spiral further, Crowley heard a knock.
This was it, then.
Despite himself, despite every single instinct screaming at him to take his giant wings and soar to another galaxy, Crowley opened the door.
Aziraphale didn’t look angry. Just concerned. And nervous.
“Listen.” Crowley said. “Look, I know...you know, so...I’ll just…”
He closed the door behind Aziraphale, then puffed up a bit. There was nothing left to lose, was there? Aziraphale knew. This was just a further explanation. Right?
Oh, he was absolutely kidding himself with that one. Hysterically so.
Crowley had everything to lose.
“...Angel, I -”
“No. No, it...it isn’t right. Wait.”
Crowley had six thousand years to prepare for this. He never expected Aziraphale to love him back. But the detached, distant knowledge that he probably didn’t, probably couldn’t was one thing. Having him say it out loud was another beast entirely.
He tried to reason with himself. At least Aziraphale was alive. They’d still have their friendship - which he still firmly believed was unshakeable, even by unrequited love. He’d never, ever feel that loss again. He couldn’t. He couldn’t.
“...Crowley...oh...no, that’s not…”
Crowley looked up. Aziraphale had one hand on his arm, looking at him with such gentleness, care and concern that it almost…
“Your heart is breaking again…”
...Almost broke his heart. Yeah.
“Crowley.” Aziraphale said as Crowley looked away. “I -”
“No, no. I’m fine, angel. Aziraphale. Look. Listen, it -”
“Crowley.” He said a second time, much more firmly. Crowley shut up.
“I just...want to see your eyes. That’s all.” Aziraphale swallowed. “When...when you say it.”
Crowley didn’t say anything. A thought ran through quietly, so much so that he was only barely aware of it - he was really, really going to be sick from this emotional whiplash later. It wasn’t good for him, surely. Spending the day in lingering anxiety, and then moving to dread, and then to heartbreak, and then finally settling on…
...On terror .
In the rare moments where he allowed himself the indulgence of fantasizing about being with Aziraphale - confessing to him, touching him, kissing him - there was no version of it where he imagined himself exposed. Which, in retrospect, was stupid. Of course Aziraphale wouldn’t accept Crowley holding back when he bared his soul to him. But Crowley’s eyes betrayed everything he felt. They always had.
It was like being naked.
Nevertheless, he nodded. Aziraphale brought his hands up to gently pull his glasses off, but paused as he reached his face.
“It’s just me, Crowley. It’s just me.”
“Aziraphale - ”
... Okay . He thought. Okay .
“It was me. In your bookshop.” Crowley started. “The presence...what you felt there was…”
Aziraphale didn’t look away from him. Crowley almost wished he would. He couldn’t turn away himself - as much as this pained him, humiliated him, terrified him - he wouldn’t take this away from Aziraphale. He wouldn’t deny him any part of him.
No matter what.
...Even if Aziraphale took this and shattered his heart with it. He still deserved to know.
“...You died, Aziraphale. I felt you die.”
Crowley’s voice was cracking. He cleared his throat.
He looked into Aziraphale’s eyes, scared as a fragile, abandoned fawn. The knot in his stomach felt like it was turning his organs inside out. If he had them. If he didn’t - and...to tell the truth, he wasn’t sure - something still hurt. Physically.
Aziraphale looked down just long enough to take Crowley’s hand.
You’re safe. A disembodied voice whispered, right into his mind. Something that angels have always been able to do, but rarely did, save for special occasions. You are safe here, Crowley.
It took another moment. Crowley told himself he’d let the words go after three deep breaths.
“...I’m in love with you.”
...Crowley had halted time before. Even for the devil, once. But it never stopped for him. Not until now.
The world stopped turning. Every moment from the words leaving his tongue onwards felt another six thousand years.
Crowley wanted to cry. He wanted his glasses. He wanted his fucking hand to stop shaking.
“...Crowley, I…” Aziraphale finally started.
Crowley braced. His throat was dry.
He realized then that he never wanted an answer. He wanted, above all else, to keep living in a world where he could believe Aziraphale could love him back. And he was willing to sacrifice a world where he could know he did, if it meant he’d never have the chance to know he didn’t. Crowley spent his life coiled around another catbox. One that just splintered under the weight of his constriction.
“...Thank you, Crowley.”
Aziraphale looked toward the ground, shuffling his feet. He then opened his mouth to say something, but immediately backed down.
Crowley could stop it here. Drop everything. He could go onto the next ten thousand years without knowing what Aziraphale was about to say next. Live in a blissful waypoint, perpetually in ignorance as to whether the angel returned his feelings.
And he wanted to. Desperately. Above all else, Crowley wanted to protect himself. At fucking least until his eyes were no longer exposed.
“...You’re safe too, angel.” He said softly.
With that, Aziraphale had Crowley’s blessing to break his heart.
The angel took a shuddering breath. Crowley, remembering suddenly that Aziraphale hadn’t actually let go of his hand, squeezed his gently in return.
“I’m sorry.” Aziraphale said.
There it was.
It took everything, everything Crowley had not to unfurl his wings and hide in a cocoon of his own feathers. Forever. But being here for Aziraphale was more important.
“...I’m sorry I didn’t realize.” Aziraphale cut him off. “And that I waited so long.”
Silence. Crowley allowed his lips to part, briefly. It wasn’t so much having his jaw drop open, but the awe in his eyes made up for that discrepancy tenfold.
Don’t hope, idiot. Not yet.
But he did. As much as he knew that hope could tear him apart. As much as he had avoided feeling it in its full capacity for six thousand years. It was too much to stave off, this time.
Aziraphale felt it, too. Clearly. Because a smile crossed his lips, and he cocked his head, and he stepped closer.
“I feel just the same.”
In that moment - more than being told to leave heaven the first time, more than being told, as Aziraphale, to leave again -
More than being handed a newborn baby in a basket eleven years ago -
More, even, than staring down Satan himself and standing his ground in the face of certain destruction -
...Crowley felt everything about his life change.
There was no moment more significant. Crowley was certain there wouldn’t ever be.
Aziraphale loved him.
Aziraphale loved him.
“Oh, Crowley, you’re…”
He realized at that point that he was crying. But this time, he didn’t instinctively reach for his glasses, or rush to hide his eyes, or even avert them so Aziraphale couldn’t see the extent of what he was feeling. Because Aziraphale told him the truth - Crowley was safe. He felt safe.
“I love you.” He whispered. “I love you, Aziraphale.”
Crowley loved to see Aziraphale enjoying himself. Whether eating something particularly delicious, watching a play that he was especially invested in, or getting his hands on a new book, his expression of happiness was more wonderful than almost anything else in Crowley’s life. But he had never seen his happiness like this. He could feel it, radiating off of him in waves of light.
“I love you, Crowley.”
At that, Aziraphale moved closer. For several seconds, neither of them knew who would make the final move, and they stood with their lips only centimeters apart. Despite the desperate yearning that had been building for six thousand years - Crowley thought he could stay like this forever.
But he closed the distance. The kiss was more tender, more gentle than he had ever imagined it. And he had imagined it - thousands of times, by now. Aziraphale’s lips were so much softer than he ever thought they would be. He melted into it, utterly surrendering to him.
And just like in the movies, Crowley’s foot popped back. Aziraphale’s hands on his waist kept him from losing balance.
“...Was that your first?” Aziraphale whispered as they finally pulled away.
“...Yeah…” Crowley answered. “It wasn’t...that bad, was it?”
“What? No!” Aziraphale backed up a step. “It was wonderful! But oh...I could have made it special. I could have flown you to Paris! We could have had dinner first! I -”
“It was you , angel.” Crowley interrupted. “I’m afraid the potential for special is already maxed out.”
This time, Aziraphale started crying, too.