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better late (than not ever)

Chapter Text

It’s six minutes past noon when Crowley arrives outside of A.Z. Fell & Co., just as he has most days in the three weeks since the apocalypse-that-was-actually-just-another-Saturday. The day is overcast, par for the course in London, but that won’t do for the picnic his angel has planned and so he sends a withering glare skyward as he approaches the shop’s entrance.

It’s just a warning, really. The clouds still have some time to get their acts together and be on their dismal and dreary way, after which point it won’t be Mr. Nice Demon.

Although clouds usually seem rather perceptive, and he knows they’ll be gone by the time he heads back outside towards the Bentley, basket and bottles and tartan blanket and angel all in tow.

He twists the doorknob, frowns when he finds it locked. A quick glance at the shaded windows and sign on the door he’s never actually bothered to read suggests the shop really is closed, so he unlocks the door with a quick thought and lets himself in, locking it again behind him.

Well, he was early. For once. Aziraphale probably just popped out to grab some kind of fancy cheese or another bottle of wine.

Crowley hopes it’s the latter. That would probably go better with the chocolates he’s brought.

With little else to do, he waits. Not that that’s a problem, really. With over six thousand years’ experience under his snakeskin belt, waiting is something he’s become extremely good at.

Too good, maybe.

It doesn’t matter. Things are good now, maybe better than they’ve ever been, and he can wait a little longer.

The lights in the shop are still on, he dims them with a snap of his fingers and tosses the box of candy onto one of the few tabletops with free space as he heads for the backroom. Comfier chairs to sprawl in while he waits. He could go upstairs, to Aziraphale’s equally-cluttered but equally-cozy little flat, but he doesn’t want to presume to be welcome up there when the angel isn’t present.

...except he does want to presume that, very much so actually, and is near certain Aziraphale wouldn’t mind in the least anyway, but he sits himself down in a well-worn leather chair nevertheless, slides his glasses up to rest on his forehead.

It was one thing to presume, quite another to act on that presumption.

He can wait.

He watches the seconds tick by on his watch for awhile. He flips through several books within reaching distance without taking in any of the words before placing them carefully back on their shelves. He has a few stern words with a slightly wilted spider plant in the corner of the room, which begins to perk up almost immediately, leaves trembling almost imperceptibly.

And then he looks at his watch again, the breath of air escaping through his teeth sounding more like a hiss as he sighs deeply when he realises it’s only been four minutes since he sat down.

12:11. They were meant to go for lunch at one. Aziraphale would be back in time to finish preparing their picnic, so maybe...12:45? At the very latest.

It’s fine. He can wait.

He’s midway through counting the books on the shelf fourth from the right side of the room, third from the top (there had been nineteen second shelf from the top) when he hears the bell above the shop’s front door announcing someone’s presence. He slides to his feet, is about to call the angel’s name when he pauses, sniffs the air cautiously.

...the bell announced something’s presence, at least. Something trying very hard to pass as human, something that likely would have succeeded with anything besides another of it’s own kind.

He’s silent as he crosses the room, placing sunglasses back over his eyes and throwing out a quick ward around the shop to suggest that any potential customers may suddenly have more interest in visiting the Waterstones in Piccadilly instead.

It won’t deter Aziraphale in the least, but he can hope to have it long gone before the angel reappears.

He throws open the door of the backroom without having really decided whether he’s going to take a confrontational or an indifferent approach with the unwelcome visitor, before taking in the scene before him and abandoning both options in favour of mild confusion and slightly less-than-mild panic.

There isn’t just one demon. There’s five of them.

Well, fuck. He was already getting sloppy in his newfound retirement.

They look just like tourists of the young, backpacking variety, fresh from the youth hostel two streets over and ready to see the sights of London. They watch him from the doorway, and smile pleasantly enough, with the unnerving exception that the one in front has far too many teeth to truly pass as any self-respecting human.

She steps forward, grin still on display but not reaching her eyes, which have in turn already begun changing from a lovely shade of blue to a much darker, angrier red. But she holds her hands out kindly, as if welcoming an old friend. “Ah! Crawly, isn’t it?”

Crowley doesn’t know any of them - which isn’t that out of the ordinary, there are millions of demons, after all, so if they weren’t at the trial, why should they know him? - but he finds it in him to be a little bit offended nonetheless.

“Really? Two thousand years since I’ve changed it, none of you noticed?”

Another of the tourist-demons, complete with a backpack and a camera around his neck, waves a hand idly and Crowley hears the front door lock tight, likely with far more than simply the deadbolt.

The one apparently in charge shrugs, doesn’t bother with an answer. “Your friend here? The angel?”

Another split second decision he hopes he doesn’t fuck up as he chooses to answer truthfully, leaning on the doorframe in a convincing attempt at nonchalance. “He isn’t, actually. Could I take a message for him and then send you on your way?”

The demon laughs, a short, sharp sound without any humour. “We just wanted to see the angel immune to Hellfire. Fascinating, that.”

“Fascinating, yeah.”

“Looks like we’ve found you instead. A traitor, one I’ve heard is similarly immune to Holy Water. Since we’re here anyway, mind telling us how you did it?”

Crowley glances at the old clock ticking away on the wall above their heads. 12:17. He shrugs his shoulder not currently leaning on the doorframe and waves a hand airily. “Oh, well, you know, limited sugar intake, yearly checkups, vaccinations all up to date.”

There’s a sound like a whip-crack and the demon disappears, only to rematerialize directly in front of him a split second later, hands tight around the lapels of his blazer. Her too-many teeth are already growing longer. “Listen hear, Crawly -”

But he’s not listening, he’d really rather not, thank you very much, and two can play at this game. He’s got fangs of his own, and more than that besides.

He shoves her back, more force in the gesture than a normal man of his stature would possess, and one she clearly wasn’t expecting besides because she staggers a few steps back. He follows her, feels the planes shift around him slightly as he steps out of the doorway to make room for his wings. They flex out behind him, taking up an impressive amount of space in the cluttered shop. The lights he had turned down minutes before brighten and flicker with power surges not present anywhere else on the block.

Anything to up the intimidation factor.

Crowley smiles darkly, displays pointed teeth of his own. “Now, you lisssten. You must know what happened at my trial, even if you weren’t there.” He hadn’t been, after all, and he knew. “It was decided to leave me alone. Now if you’ll be on your way, we can pretend this never happened and Hell won’t need to find out you’ve ignored that decision.”

He actually thinks it will work, for a moment. Two of the demons nearer to the door must be new to earth or inexperienced, because they look about ready to bolt through the sealed front door.

If they’re all like this, maybe it’ll be easier than he -

The thought fizzles and dies in his head as the one in charge laughs again, seeming to genuinely be enjoying herself. “You think we actually care about any rules or limitations Hell brings about?” Well, he could relate to that sentiment, at least. She continues before he can reply, still grinning. “You’re something else, aren’t you?”

“I thought that was obvious when I jumped in a tub of Holy Water. Last chance.”

“And it looks like you missed it.” This time she’s the one to snap her fingers, and it’s two of her companions who reappear on either side of him, grips tight around his arms and forcing him towards the ground before he can react.

But react he does even if just a little too late, hissing and clawing and using whatever impromptu weapons he can grab (an old letter opener on the desk) and coming just short of calling up some flame (not the books, not again). He’d never been much of a fighter, but every demon knows the basics. It’s a near essential part of the job description, and he can’t help the dark thrill of satisfaction when his makeshift blade plunges deeply into camera-demon’s leg, who in turn yelps in pain.

All in all, his efforts may have been enough to deter two or even three demons - but not four, and certainly not five.

Most certainly not when the fifth was whatever she is. He really should have paid more attention at the biannual mixers.


When she raises a hand, almost looking bored, Crowley suddenly feels as though he hasn’t slept in three centuries. But it’s more than that, because he doesn’t actually need sleep. But he does need all of the otherworldly perks that come with being a demon, the ones that he can feel are rapidly draining away.

Kind of like Falling again, but without the drastic change in altitude and the sulphur and the pain.

Most of the pain, anyway. He vaguely registers a throbbing sensation somewhere in his ribcage and wonders if he’s not the only one who found a letter opener.

He’s pushed onto his knees and he can barely find the strength to resist. Even still, he manages to glare at the demon in charge as she stands in front of him, taking glasses which had miraculously stayed put off his face and tossing them somewhere behind her.

“This has been entertaining, Crawly, not a wasted trip after all,” she gestures to the two holding him in place and in the next moment he finds himself shoved forward, face pressed painfully into the old wood flooring. He takes a second, focuses to shift his wings back to the ethereal plane (they were just in the way at this point, really), and the panic instantly flares up anew when something stops him from doing so.

“There’s just one thing that’s been bothering me since this all started,” her ever-present smile turns vicious, even though he can no longer see her face.

“Snakes don’t have wings.”


Crowley doesn’t know what she says when they leave. He hears the words, but can’t focus to make them into any sort of coherent speech. He hears the bell, mockingly cheerful as it marks their departure, though it sounds like it’s coming from several miles away and several miles underwater. He’s still on the floor, a rapidly growing pool of blood seeping into the floorboards and his clothes, and he hazily considers the idea of just never moving ever again. Might hurt less.

Because the pain...well, however briefly he’d considered whatever she’d done before to be akin to Falling, it had nothing on this.

He can already feel some of his powers returning, albeit sluggishly - seems whatever she had done had only temporarily blocked them, hadn’t taken them away entirely. It’s a slow thrum of energy that does little to dull the agony radiating from his back and his wings.

Or what might be left of them.

He doesn’t dare look.

Instead he just stares blearily across the room, to the small tables that have been upturned in the struggle, fallen books splashed with dark blood and a box of chocolates spilled across the floor.

Oh, no. The chocolates. Aziraphale would be so disappointed. They were from his favourite shop, and -


He couldn’t come home to this. The poor angel would have a heart attack, and his discorporation at that moment would be highly inconvenient.

Crowley takes one more long, long moment, then focuses all of his effort into pushing himself back into a kneeling position. His wings seem to scream at the unwanted movement, and it takes all his willpower not to scream out in kind.

Another moment, and then several more, and then he’s on his feet, leaning heavily on a larger table. Even without the sight of bloodied black feathers strewn across the floor, the pain was enough to make him dry heave. He didn’t often eat unless he was with Aziraphale, and perhaps it was lucky they hadn’t been out for lunch in a few days. One fewer mess to clean up in the shop.

Oh, angel, I’m so sorry...

He thinks for a moment, fights past the haze of pain that’s threatening to knock his body unconscious, and imagines that everything’s fine. That the bookshop is fine, that his wings are fine, that he’s...fine...

And to anyone who would happen to walk into the shop in the next few minutes, that’s exactly what they might see. A cluttered but clean bookshop, certainly free of bloodstains and worse, and a man, exhausted but whole, any wings he may or may not possess temporarily held in a parallel plane through sheer determination and stubbornness alone.

There...everything is fine. He just needs to keep that in mind until Aziraphale returns. Then he can break it to him slowly, no need to spring it on him all at once. Crowley glances down towards his hand still planted firmly on the table, to the watch on his wrist splattered with blood visible to nobody except him.


He can wait.

Chapter Text

It’s forty five minutes past noon when Aziraphale starts the short walk back towards home, bottle of wine tucked safely in the crook of his arm as he exits the shop and joins the steady stream of people crowding the sidewalks. The day had started overcast, par for the course in London, but the sky has brightened up considerably since he left for his errand and so he sends a cheerful glance skyward as he walks.

It’s just a small gesture of appreciation, really. The clouds could have hung around, cast their shadows on the city for the rest of the day, at which point they may have considered pulling a rain check for the picnic.

Although clouds usually seem rather perceptive, and he hopes they’ll stay elsewhere by the time he’s heading back outside towards the Bentley, basket and bottles and tartan blanket and Crowley all present and accounted for.

There seems to be many others taking advantage in the turn of the weather as well, the walkways more congested than usual and slowing down his trek home somewhat. He nearly drops his purchase when a crowd of young tourists all but crash into him as they both round a corner from opposite directions, but the boy with a slight limp and a camera around his neck catches the bottle at the last second before holding it back out to him carefully.

“Sorry about that.”

“Oh, no harm done. Thank you,” he takes the wine back, exchanges cordial smiles with the polite young man and continues on his way.

It’s not until he’s less than half a block away that he starts to feel the remnants of a ward cast around the shop. He frowns, is about to pick up the pace before he sees the Bentley parked at the curb and relaxes slightly.

Well, it was entirely likely Crowley just didn’t want to deal with any potential customers.

He could have waited upstairs in the flat, of course, but then Aziraphale reconsiders the thought. Had he ever actually told Crowley to come and go as he pleased? It would be fine of course (more than fine?), but had he ever actually extended the offer in words?

He can’t recall.

He resolves to make that offer today. It’s the least he can do. Friends for over six thousand years, but he’d always been wary of stepping over some invisible line and alerting either of their respective head offices of the Arrangement, had always been good at avoiding any obscured boundaries that might tip them off.

Too good, maybe.

It doesn’t matter. Things are good now, maybe better than they’ve ever been, and he can make that extra effort now.

The shop’s entrance is unlocked even though the shades are still drawn, and that only reaffirms his belief in Crowley’s disinterest in conversing with customers as he opens the door. The belief that’s confirmed as he steps inside and sees the demon in question leaning heavily on a table with both arms, staring firmly at the page of a random, open book.

Later, Aziraphale will be guilt-ridden, thinking of how he should have noticed the way his arms shook slightly, how he wasn’t staring at the book, but at nothing at all. How he should have felt the anger and the pain and the fear echoing in the room.

But in the moment, all he feels is joy from seeing his dearest friend, contentment from being reunited once again. “Crowley! So sorry to have kept you waiting, I thought I’d just nip out to -” he falters as he glances down, stops his next footfall just moments before he would have stepped on a pair of designer sunglasses. He picks them up, feels his heart drop painfully when he sees they’re already cracked. “My dear, is everything alright?”

“ ‘m fine.”

Aziraphale makes the few short steps over to the demon, places a hand on his back in concern, and withdraws it almost instantly when the hiss that escapes Crowley’s lips almost sounds tangled with a sob.

He turns around, looking to leave the bottle on the nearest spot of free space in order to deal with the far more pressing concern that was rapidly making itself known, and distantly considers the fact that Crowley’s blazer felt damp despite the fact it had never actually rained. He all but tosses the wine bottle onto a small end table, stops it from teetering off the edge with a haphazard thought. A good choice on the bottle’s behalf, because he absolutely would have let it fall from his hand and shatter on the floor when he turns back to his friend and a scene straight out of his darkest nightmares.

The bookshop is unrecognizable from what he’d seen mere seconds before. Tables upturned, books and trinkets tossed everywhere, lamps and a window cracked, a box of his favourite chocolates and a mug with an angel-wing handle broken and scattered across the floor.

And blood. It’s everywhere. Sprayed across tables and walls, pooled on the floor, seeping into cracks in the old wood. Blood, and skin, and...feathers? Black feathers.

He sees it all, but it barely registers because his eyes and his thoughts and his rapidly beating heart all focus solely on the demon who is no longer leaning on the table, who is instead trying to stagger the couple of steps needed to reach Aziraphale.

He too is covered in blood, rivulets of crimson dripping from torn sleeves to run off his fingertips and get lost amongst the gore-covered floorboards. It’s near impossible to tell how badly his body is damaged, his dark clothes likely hiding much of the true extent, but it has to be nothing compared to the state of his wings.

Aziraphale had always thought Crowley’s wings were beautiful - sleek and dark and well-cared for, much like everything else the demon took pride in. But what he’s staring at now is nothing more than a horrifying distortion of what they used to be. Broken, mangled, useless things, stripped of feathers and in many places, skin and muscle as well. There’s still more blood dripping from them, the sound of it hitting the floor in near perfect harmony with the ticking of the clock on the wall.

And there are tears already falling from bloodshot yellow eyes, which might somehow be the worst, most terrifying part. Had he ever seen Crowley cry before? Maybe he got a little weepy once or twice in the last six thousand years, when they were four bottles deep and humanity was struggling deeply, but never for himself.


Aziraphale is already in tears himself, already moving forward even as he takes it all in, arms extended, because he doesn’t want Crowley to take another haggard step.

He doesn’t, because his knees buckle and he pitches forward, but there’s an angel this time to catch him when he falls.

Aziraphale holds him firmly with gentle hands, careful not to touch Crowley’s shredded wings, keeps him upright. Any other position would cause even more jostling to his wings, cause more pain he most desperately wants to keep at bay. He feels trembling, bloodstained fingertips digging into his back, trying to grip on to some sort of stability, some kind of comfort. He tries to provide both as best he can.

“I’m here, it’s safe now, nothing else is going to happen. I’m so sorry, sweetheart, I -”

His voice catches as the demon’s head drops onto his shoulder, and Crowley begins to sob. Loudly, harshly, vocalising a pain Aziraphale has never had to suffer, but one similar to what he thinks Crowley himself may have gone through once before, a long, long time ago.

But he isn’t alone this time. And needn’t be ever again.

Aziraphale holds him as tightly as he dares, loathe to cause any more pain but determined to provide as much comfort as possible.

As angelically possible, preferably, but it’s not even been a month since their trials and he doesn’t want to attract any attention from upstairs with large miracles.

So instead Aziraphale continues to whisper comforting nothings, near fully supporting Crowley’s weight as the demon continues to cry. He channels as much energy as he dares into the other as he tries to numb the pain and heal more superficial wounds. A slow and relatively minor, but steady stream that seems to start working it’s magic when eventually the sobs begin to quieten.

Aziraphale still doesn’t move as the other slowly begins to fall silent entirely, as the trembling shoulders and shaking hands become still. A little extra magic to help along unconsciousness was likely a blessing in disguise that the demon could still tolerate.

He stands motionless a moment longer, braces himself for the largest miracle he’s prepared to carry out while simultaneously praying that somewhere, some other angel is pulling off something far larger at the same time, drawing any prying eyes from Heaven away from him and what he’s about to do.

He snaps his fingers and the next instant finds them both upstairs in his bedroom. Crowley is no longer covered in blood or shredded clothes, instead dressed in comfortable sleep pants and a dark cotton shirt. His more concerning bodily wounds (had that been a stab wound between his ribs?) are already near healed, because the amount of blood downstairs in the shop was more than concerning. It had looked like far more than a human body should stand to lose, and if Crowley discorporated now, Aziraphale is frighteningly certain he would not be seeing the demon again.

So it wasn’t an option, it had been a risk worth taking, and anything immediately threatening to his human body has been seen to.

None of that is really what Aziraphale is most worried about, however.

He’d also ensured Crowley’s wings were seen to, the very worst of the damage healed just to the point where nothing would be irreversible. It would be slow going, the healing process - he couldn’t do it all at once, that would almost certainly attract notice he wasn’t interested in gaining them, but this was a start. And there are no trumpets sounding, no lightning strikes to announce the arrival of company he’d rather never keep again, so he considers his miracle both discrete and a success.

Besides, he isn’t sure he would be able to heal Crowley’s wings entirely with angelic magic anyway.

There’s only one creature that would cause this kind of damage, never mind actually could, and their type of influence ran directly against the kind of which he would try to help with.

He has no idea what happened, but now certainly isn’t the time to ask.

Aziraphale lays the demon on the bed carefully, resting on his side with wings gently spread out behind him. He’s unsure when Crowley will wake up, so he makes short work of cleaning himself up. He removes his bloodstained coat, leaves it folded over the back of a chair before leaving to wash his hands and arms. He hadn’t bothered to miracle himself clean - extra energy put to much better use elsewhere - and besides, there was no shame if he needed a minute or two alone in the bathroom to try and compose himself.

He’s back in the bedroom within ten minutes, after having fixed himself up and placing a new, much more insistent ward around the shop. He sets a brand new pair of sunglasses fetched from the Bentley on the bedside table, ready should Crowley wish for them when he wakes up. Finally, he pulls his chair up beside the bed before settling himself into it.

There’s the slow and steady sound of raindrops hitting the roof.

Clouds usually were rather perceptive.

He sits quietly, maybe for minutes, maybe for hours, watches his charge with a worried yet patient expression.

But however long it was, it wasn’t as long as Aziraphale would have liked. That’s not to say he doesn’t feel immense relief as he sees yellow eyes slowly blink open, but at the same time, the longer Crowley stayed sleeping, the longer he wouldn’t have to deal with all the pain and discomfort that consciousness would bring.

Aziraphale wants to ask so many questions, leading the charge with a near frantic what happened?

But that can wait for the moment.

“How are you?” He asks softly instead, when Crowley’s bleary stare lands on him for a moment. The demon doesn’t answer right away, nor does he move anything other than his eyes. His gaze moves from the angel to elsewhere in the room, including to the glasses beside the bed. He doesn’t reach for them.

“Right fucked, actually,” Crowley says eventually, quietly but with emphasis on certain words that Aziraphale has come to expect after such a long time as friends. “Or I would have been, without you.” He pauses, once again looks around to meet the angel’s gaze, and holds it this time. “Thank you.”

In half a moment Aziraphale considers the countless times over the centuries they’ve told each other not to say those words, not to elaborate, not to bring it up again. He offers a small but sincere smile. “You are most welcome.”

For his part, Crowley doesn’t comment further and instead takes it upon himself to glance elsewhere around the room again. Aziraphale watches him notice the bloody handprints on the coat hung over his chair, and he has the audacity to look almost embarrassed as he purses his lips. “Sorry, angel. I’ll fix that when I can.”

Aziraphale takes the demon’s hand resting on the bed between both his own without a second thought. “Darling, you will do nothing of the sort.”

He might be imagining the flush high on Crowley’s cheekbones, or maybe it’s just more obvious against sickly pale skin. “But you said - a hundred and eighty years -”

“Means nothing at all compared to six thousand.” His grasp is firm, and he hopes it helps to convey how adamantly he means the words. “Just as a coat means nothing at all compared to you. So it truly is the very least of my concerns.”

He doesn’t say anything else, only offers another smile and a return of the gesture when Crowley eventually gives his hand a tiny squeeze. Doesn’t comment when he sheds a few more tears, only brushes them away with a gentle thumb.

Crowley doesn’t let go of his other hand, though, not even after he’s fallen asleep again. And Aziraphale doesn’t loosen his grip, not even after the demon wouldn’t know.

He can make the extra effort now.

Now more than ever.

Chapter Text

It always started with the sudden, overwhelming exhaustion that came with a snap of her fingers and refused to let him fight back as he was forced to the floor.

Angry red eyes and far too many teeth on an otherwise pretty, smiling human face he tried not to look at when she slowly pulled off his sunglasses and tossed them away - strange, that, since he'd never bothered to wear them since he'd taken up residence in the flat, and so he never usually had them in the dreams, either. He might have struggled harder, done something more the first few times, but he knew well what was coming by now and couldn’t do much to stop the tears.

She laughed, then. “Whatever is the problem? We haven’t even done anything yet.”

And then he tried, like every other damned time he tried again. To save himself, to stop it from happening again, to pray for some other outcome. But just like every other time, the sharp chill of fear matched only by near overwhelming panic flooded his mind as something - as always - stopped him from shifting his wings out of the material plane.

There were fingers threading through his hair, rough and almost painfully hot as she gripped tightly and yanked his head up so he had no choice but to meet her gaze again. He’d seen much more than his share of hatred during his centuries in Hell, but few had ever matched the waves of it radiating off of her. Hatred, but also excitement. She enjoyed what she did, each and every time.

“You know what comes next, so let’s just get to it, shall we?”

It was worse in some ways, this time. The dreams hadn’t gotten to this point in awhile, usually Aziraphale would wake him up before this - where was Aziraphale?

It wasn’t long before he was screaming once again, and his tormentor sighed contentedly, apparently satisfied for the moment with simply watching her companions take over the task of slowly stripping his wings of feathers and skin, and eventually more than that.

“I’ll be honest, Crawly, I’m going to miss this,” she waved the blade she was holding a little as she spoke, before making a show of picking small, black feathers out of the blood that coated it.

He tried to listen to what she was saying, but his brain and all of his nerve endings were demanding his attention elsewhere, especially when one of their knives dug just a little too deeply and his body near convulsed involuntarily. A new set of hands on his shoulders held him in place as he heard some laughter before the blades resumed their bloody work.

“...but it’s probably for the best. We can’t keep this up forever, much as I would like to.” She was quiet after that, and he couldn’t even try to keep his attention elsewhere other than on the desecration he was suffering through yet again.

Finally, finally they seem to be finished, as hands let go and they all stepped away. He didn't bother trying to move, but she grabbed his hair again and hauled him into a kneeling position with frightening ease. The sudden movement nearly caused him to pass out, but that would have been too easy of an out and a little further demonic influence kept him conscious.

She knelt in front of him, patted a blood-smeared, tear-stained cheek, and laughed when he winced sharply at the simple movement. “Listen carefully, you need to remember this part. We’ll see you soon, alright?”

With that, she stood and headed for the door of the bookshop, and in an instant he was back in the actual memory rather than some distorted version. He was on the floor again, with an unfocused gaze staring at spilled chocolates and bloody feathers as they all walked to the entrance.

But he heard what she said as she left this time, clear as the bell on the door that announced their departure.

“We’ll see you both again really soon.”