Crowley can taste the bookshop on his tongue. The soot is smeared all over the interior of the Bentley but it doesn’t matter anymore because nothing matters anymore. Aziraphale is gone and Armageddon is on the horizon, and he’d waited too long to say all the things that mattered. He’s thinking of a bar- any bar. The closest bar he can find where he can spend the End Times drinking himself into oblivion before the war starts. Where he won’t drink wine because that was something he and Aziraphale did together and he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to look at the bottle without feeling as though the air he doesn’t even need is being sucked from his lungs. Where he can scream himself hoarse until the mountains crumble and the sea boils and the sky bleeds red because why bother trying to stop it now.
He isn’t even sure the world is worth saving if Aziraphale isn’t in it.
He doesn’t think of the second option until he’s careening down the streets, Queen blaring over the speakers as he dodges around pedestrians because he can picture Aziraphale beside him, telling him off for going too fast
you go too fast for me Crowley
-that he feels the hairs on the back of his neck prickle upright and his whole body shudders. Only one thing makes him react like that.
And he knows where he can go where there is someone to scream at.
The Bentley pulls up so suddenly that he can smell the burn of rubber on asphalt, but he pays it no mind. His feet begin to tingle as soon as they touch the pavement, the stretch of path towards the cathedral consecrated by years of devoted worshippers making their way along it. The tingle turns to a burn when he reaches the doors, shoving them inwards with open palms and feeling the whorls of woodwork sear into them. Aziraphale loved churches. Loved cathedrals even more. Loved to detour whatever their plans were for just a moment to stand within the walls and feel some part of his soul click together in a way he couldn’t get outside the consecrated grounds. Crowley had always waited outside, for obvious reasons. Always sat patiently while Aziraphale drank in the designs and the architecture before hurrying out to him with an apologetic smile, before Crowley would make a smart remark that would lead them into banter.
He doesn’t know if this cathedral is particularly nice, he’s only ever been in the one and he was busy making sure Aziraphale didn’t get himself discorporated to give a damn about the aesthetic. The ceilings are vaulted and wood paneled; the floor is a checkered pattern of black and white tiles that creep into the darkened alcoves and under the heavy, cherry wood pews. Stained glass windows line the perimeter and throw multicoloured lights over the interior.
His feet are sizzling.
“Hello?” he calls breezily, hearing the echo of his own voice thrown back at him, “Are you in today, Love? Big day for you, I assume. Last day of the world and all that.”
He doesn’t know where the priests are. Should there not be priests? Or at the very least, some lambs of the Lord seeking salvation. He is surprised to be alone.
Only as alone as one can be in a place like this.
He runs a hand on the pews and sucks his teeth, serpentine eyes flickering from one stained glass window to the next. The stations of the cross are nailed to the walls and he remembers being there, watching the innocent carpenter from Galilee be hoisted into the air and die for the sins of a mankind that was doomed from the start.
He reaches out and throws one of the candles to the floor, where the fire stutters and burns out.
“Oh, come on. Isn’t this supposed to be some kind of direct line to the Almighty? Aren’t you supposed to always be here for people seeking some kind of Divine Grace? Well I’m here and I’m waiting!”
A stained glass image of a man who he knows is supposed to be Jesus but looks nothing like him stares blankly down. His arms are outstretched as though he is welcoming Crowley in but that isn’t who he wants to see. No, he is done with the middle man. He wants an audience with the woman who took Aziraphale away from him. The woman who threw him into a pit of sulfur for asking questions. The woman who is about to let billions of humans die for no reason.
“COME ON!” he screams, hands thrown into the air in defeat before he slumps down onto the floor and lets his knees sizzle against the checkered tile floors. His feet ache with a pain he hasn’t felt since he Fell. Even in the church they hadn’t hurt this much. Even after, when he had to separate the leather of his shoes from the warped flesh of his own feet had he not felt this kind of pain.
His cheeks are wet.
His knees are burning.
He will die here before he lets Her get away with this.
“He did nothing wrong,” Crowley rasps to the ceiling. To a God he isn’t sure is listening anymore and might never have been. He has had so many talks with Her since the Fall, and they have all gone unanswered. But now he is here, in the house of the Lord, his flesh burning into submission and he will do anything.
“I repent,” he croaks softly, “I will repent. I will pray. I will sing your stupid harmonies until my throat bleeds- bring him back.”
His knees are too wrecked to hold him anymore. The blood is staining staircase that leads to the sanctuary and he almost laughs but the sound doesn’t feel right in his mouth without Aziraphale around. Instead, he plants his hands in the sanctuary and bows his head. His palms are bubbling like the paint in Aziraphale’s bookshop.
“What do I need to say for you to listen?” he breathes, “What do I need to do to bring him back? I-”
He doesn’t say it.
Instead, he pressed his forehead between his hands and feels the heat of the consecrated ground begin to tingle through his skin.
“All I ever did was ask questions. All I ever did was ask why you would test them like this. I won’t ask that anymore, I swear. Please just let me see him so I can say goodbye.”
There is no response and he doesn’t know what he expected. His sadness sparks and ignites back into rage and he uses the last of his energy to wobble to his feet and scream as loud as his tiny, useless human lungs will allow. It echoes off the high ceilings, ricochets from window to window and disappears into the dark hallways.
“WHAT KIND OF GOD ARE YOU? I THOUGHT YOU BELIEVED IN- IN-”
The word still catches in his throat.
The burning has stopped.
Crowley looks at his hands. They are still split open and shiny with burns. His knees are still a bloodied wreck. He doesn’t need to look at his feet because he stopped being able to feel them a while ago so he’s sure it isn’t a sight he wants burned into his brain. The cathedral has gone still. The light still shines through the windows but something is different.
The dust particles in the air have stopped moving.
A bright white light spills slowly from the ceiling and Crowley shields his eyes out of habit. The Holy light burns demons, leaves his vision spotty and blurred for days. He’d learned that lesson the hard way when he’d ignored Aziraphale’s warning during a smiting of a demon who had stumbled upon them.
This light doesn’t burn.
“You thought I believed in what, exactly?”
Her voice feels like nails under an old scab that has never healed. Crowley stares up at the light, mouth open. There is a long pause before he hears Her voice again, repeating the question. She speaks a name so old it takes Crowley a long moment to realize it was his name. Before the Fall. Before he swan dived into that pit of boiling sulphur that had blackened his wings and ripped his Grace from his chest. It forces his mouth up into a snarl.
“That isn’t my name.”
A beat of silence. Then the disembodied voice returns.
“That was the name I gave you.”
“The one you took away,” he hisses in return.
The light ripples, but She only repeats her first question. Crowley shifts on the floor, the strange sensation of nothing burning away at him.
“...why did you take him away?”
“I didn’t. You thought I believed. In. What.”
There’s no way She doesn’t know what he means. If she’s an Ineffable as Aziraphale always suggested, as ever present and all knowing, she must know. He tells her as much and the light hums like a choir before it almost... smiles.
“Of course I know. But why can you not say it?”
“You know why,” he hisses, “You know why I can’t say it. You know why I never have. You took him away now bring him back.”
“You’re in no place to make demands. And I’ve already told you. I’m not the one who took Aziraphale away. If I didn’t want him on Earth, I would have had him recalled a long time ago. It appears there was an... administrative error.”
“Adminis- are you serious?”
The light shimmers with silent laughter, “Quite. But you need not concern yourself with it. There are bigger problems on your horizon. The Four Horsemen are riding to the end of the world. The angels and demons are prepared for the war.”
“I can’t stop it.”
“No. You can’t.”
Crowley throws his hands in the air with a growl, never wanting for the Almighty to have a physical body moreso than he did at this very moment if only so he could slap Her.
“Then why bother giving a shit!”
“For Aziraphale. Isn’t that why you are here? A demon willing to burn himself on the consecrated grounds of a cathedral wouldn’t just do so for an acquaintance. For a temptation. For someone they don’t care deeply for. Tell me. Tell me the truth. You thought I believed in what.”
Crowley shrinks back with a snarl. He can hear the bait in Her voice, the licks of tease and temptation he didn’t know She could be capable of. She already knows.
“He’s my best friend.”
And the whole world quaked under Crowley’s feet when Aziraphale admitted to giving the sword away because that was kindness.
And when Aziraphale had feigned ignorance on Crowley and the stowaway children crammed deep within the Ark, Crowley had believed in mercy.
And when Aziraphale dragged Crowley, kicking and screaming, from the burning ruins of Rome where he had been content to be discorporated; he had remembered sacrifice.
And when Crowley wiped the blood of the plague victims from Aziraphale’s face in the mass graves, held him while he sobbed about the souls who hadn’t had time to repent; he had wanted to burn the world to the ground. He had been gentle.
And how, every time Aziraphale’s eyes landed on him, he felt as though he would Fall a hundred more times if it meant he wouldn’t have to be without him.
“...and I love him,” he says softly, “I thought you believed in love?”
The light becomes so bright his eyes begin to ache, shrinking to a sliver of pupil. If light could show emotions, he would be tempted to say it was happy.
“I do believe in love. It was why I created you and the rest of the host. Why I created the humans and brought Eve to Adam. Did you not ever wonder why you were allowed to stand atop the gates of Eden, shielded under the wing of the Guardian of the Eastern Gate, after you tempted my first human children to take the apple? I could feel it from the moment you saw him. And I knew you would become something different, that not even I could have created. You are a demon capable of love. And you love Aziraphale so much you were willing to come here, to Me, to seek him out.”
“He doesn’t.... he couldn’t-” he whispers, the knowledge that Aziraphale will never love him aching more than anything he has felt before.
The light... snickers. Crowley looks up. Crowley feels the gentle cup of hands on his face and he tries to pry away from the invisible grip, only to feel a cold touch of lips on his forehead.
“You always were one of my best-” she begins, and he can hear her mouth curling around that name again. The name that isn’t his anymore. He feels the seize of his shoulders because that name isn’t him, it has never been him. The best thing about the Fall was shedding that name and finding his own. But it stops.
The word doesn’t inspire the same reaction in him as it does when Aziraphale speaks it, but he feels something tug behind his ribs and it feels like a puzzle piece that had never sit quite right finally settling. The conversation has left him raw and open, as though scrubbed clean with a wire bristle. But it will be worth it, as long as he gets what he came for.
“Aziraphale?” he whispers, almost pleadingly.
“All in good time. Be sure to tell him, Crowley. He’s been waiting. ” she whispers against his skin, her voice softer than he can ever remember it being. He feels white hot pain at his knees- his palms- his feet- the bubbling flesh healing to smooth, pale skin. The light begins to fade and panic rises in his chest. Aziraphale still isn’t here. Aziraphale is still gone. The world is still ending. He said the damn words.
The cathedral blurs around him and he finds himself in the Bentley, careening through he streets of London. He launches out of the way of a pedestrian and glances at his unmarred hands. He wiggles his toes. He is whole again.
And he is still alone.
The bartender doesn’t question him when he sucks down his first bottle. Nor his second. Halfway through the third he gives Crowley a look and miraculously thinks better of it. Crowley is thinking of his conversation. Of the cathedral floor under his skin. Of lips on his forehead. Of his name being whispered in a way that felt almost like forgiveness.
Of the phrase, “He’s been waiting”
And then Aziraphale is there and it is as though Crowley is seeing him for the first time. How could he have missed it?
He doesn’t get the chance to tell him, what with the Apocalypse and all. It isn’t until they are world weary and lost; on a bus bound for Oxford that is meandering around London, that he allows himself to reach out and curl his fingers around Aziraphale’s hands, as soft as he always imagined they would be. Aziraphale starts. Looks down at their hands, and then up at Crowley. Crowley has admitted it to himself now. Crowley has let the words slip past his lips and now it radiates from his every pore. It rolls off him like waves.
“I love you.”
Seems silly, now. Those three words don’t really cover it, but they don’t have to. Aziraphale understands. He feels it seeping into his bones and he wants to cry with relief.
He has been waiting.
“I love you too, Crowley.”
On the back of the bus, unseen by the two figures leaning heavily against one another; a woman in a heavenly blue scarf tucks her face between the pages of her book, and smiles.