If Heaven's grief brings Hell's rain
Then I'd trade all my tomorrows
For just one yesterday
The world does not, exactly, end.
The humans end, or at least most of them do, but even after the bombs and the initial clash of angels and demons, Earth remains as she has always been. She spins on her axis and orbits the sun and she cradles Adam in her waters as he weeps for what he has done. What he has been made to do, and cannot now undo.
The world does not end, but Aziraphale's does.
Ten million angels and demons descend in the midst of nuclear Armageddon and lay waste to anything that manages to survive. Fully half of each side lies culled upon scorched earth after the first day, and the rest scatter to regroup and lick their wounds. They had expected it to be decisive. They had expected it to be swift. Heaven had expected to wipe Hell out of existence, not realizing that Hell had designed the same plans for them.
They spend the next hundred years stirring the dust of nuclear winter with their skirmishes, picking away at one another piece by piece. Aziraphale watches angel and demon alike fall to the end of all things. There are no winners, save for Death, who claims each celestial and infernal light back from whence it came with a gentleness that makes Aziraphale ache to surrender as well.
Crowley had been right.
There is no more music in the world, not even celestial harmonies. There are no more restaurants, no more delicacies, no more flavors anywhere but ash. He has not seen a green leaf in half a century. There are no more ducks to feed, or books to read, or plays to see. There is nothing but eternity, stretching out before Aziraphale, an endless, horrifying decline into entropy. Earth has Fallen, and it has taken Heaven and Hell with it, and there is nothing left worth saving.
Crowley had left, and Aziraphale is alone.
He wanders the ruined world in his true form, like the others, but he refuses to fight. Long ago he had abandoned his sword. He should never have touched it in the first place, as a sword has no place in peace. He should have cast it down, the way the other wrongdoers of Heaven had been. He should never have helped angels try to forge Heaven anew in blood. They will never finish paying back what it has cost all of them.
But there is no going back now; at least, not for any of them.
Aziraphale had only ever seen one person affect the flow of time.
And Crowley had gone off without him, after all.
The stars, at least, have remained unchanged.
When Aziraphale can stand no more heartbreak, he spreads his wings and takes to the void of space. He keeps all of his hundreds of eyes open, searching the unending black for the midnight shine of Crowley's wings. Crowley has had a hundred years to flee to the most remote corners of the universe, where it will take until the end of time for the Archangels to find him, and Aziraphale expects to fare no better, except...
In some ways, Crowley is unlike any other demon. The others stay on the desolate Earth only because they cannot imagine leaving it. Crowley alone has the ability to imagine running away instead of fighting. Crowley, alone, had left.
But Crowley is the only demon with a tether other than a lack of free will, and that is how Aziraphale knows he has not fled to the edge of existence. He has not fled to where he cannot be found. Instead, he has fled to where only one person will find him, and Aziraphale does.
All of Crowley's thousands of eyes watch as Aziraphale approaches where he sits nestled in the shadow between the twin stars of Alpha Centauri. He holds so still that, had Aziraphale not expected to, he might not have seen him at all. Infernal flame dances upon the half-dozen axes of his spinning, snake-headed wheels, his eight sleek, black wings slacked open among them and his Aspects shuffling through his burning core. Aziraphale sees a hyena and a raven and a lamb before he is close enough to address Crowley.
Aziraphale is dwarfed by the size of him, a mouse approaching a tiger, and yet he feels no fear at all. He does not, however, know what to say that can possibly bridge the chasm he had torn between them when he hefted the sword of war and prepared to fight.
So soon? Crowley asks, the words resigned to a fate Aziraphale has not brought with him. There is no sound in space, but Aziraphale understands the words anyway. They echo, chambered and clattering, around inside of his mind. Seraphim were made for song, not speech, and Crowley's true voice has never forgotten this.
A hundred years, Aziraphale tells him. It is soon to them, compared to six thousand, but it has left deeper scars.
The tilt of one of Crowley's wheeled-up snakes shifts, the eyes on its sides all blinking like a passing wave. Have you come to kill me, angel? The term was an endearment once. It is a reminder now.
No, Aziraphale answers truthfully. He bares hands empty of weapons, both wings spreading wide and all the eyes of his Aspects closing in an act of submission. I have come to seek your aid.
Pain that does not belong to him curls through Aziraphale, chased after by regret. Then you have come in vain. I can do nothing for you.
Aziraphale's eyes open to regard Crowley. He knows cannot is not unwilling. His wings fold. You stopped time before. In Moscow. Paris. Queensland. Can you still? Can you turn it backward on itself?
Never has Aziraphale felt such heartbreak in a being with no actual heart. I have, Crowley says, so softly. I have turned it back a hundred times already. A thousand. You have raised your sword to me in every one of them.
Aziraphale's own heart breaks. Is that what you think of me? he says, nearly begs. They have been on different pages. They have been in different books. Surely you must know I would not raise my sword to you, Crowley. Never to you.
Something deep and sharp reaches within Aziraphale and drags a crystal clear memory to the forefront. Crowley on his knees, trying to say goodbye. Aziraphale scooping up the sword of war and yelling at him to come up with something as he brings the sword to bear. Crowley, eyes wide and riveted on the blade, having never heard all the words Aziraphale had neglected to say in six thousand years of chances.
Behind them, the maw of Hell opening to bring forth Armageddon, and both of them too lost and stunned to stop it.
You left, Aziraphale tells him when the memory releases him. I would sooner have died than hurt you, but you left before I could tell you.
I waited six thousand years, and then I asked you to come with me, Crowley says. I begged you.
I'm here now, Aziraphale tells him, knowing it doesn't count. It cannot possibly count, and yet it must. There is no hope in the universe that isn't Crowley. I'll go with you now. We can go back together.
It is a cruel echo, Aziraphale knows, but he has no other offer. Crowley has been alone for so long he has broken, and Aziraphale has nothing left to give but himself. They hold their silences for what seems an eternity, and when Aziraphale thinks they might never speak again, Crowley answers.
I cannot bear to lose you even once more. The eyes along his wings close as he folds them to himself, defensive. I would rather you'd have come to kill me, than to ask this of me.
Aziraphale moves, hesitantly at first, then with wings out, crossing the distance between them in the blink of an eye. He lays one long, slender hand upon the spinning wheel of Crowley's crown, and reaches inside of him the same way Crowley had done to him. Their minds touch, and Aziraphale is acutely aware of how much more powerful Crowley is like this, their raw essences exposed to one another. If Crowley chose, his will could subsume Aziraphale's entirely, destroy him as thoroughly as holy water would have killed Crowley, once.
Aziraphale is unafraid.
He presses one of his own memories to Crowley's mind, of a time so long ago. A church lays in rubble around them, fire licking at the remains like a hungry wolf. Their fingers brush, just so, as Crowley passes him a bag of treasured books, a selfless act, an act of love. Aziraphale presses harder against the memory of just how hopelessly he fell in love in that moment. He presses so hard it would leave a scar on a mortal body, and then he gently lets go, lets Crowley hold onto the memory, instead.
Crowley cradles Aziraphale's love in his mind like something precious, something fragile, and Aziraphale's heart breaks again. He really had not known. They were such fools.
It will be different this time, Aziraphale tells him as he withdraws back to himself. You will not be alone. If you'll have me, if you want me to, I will never leave you alone again. But we must fix this, or there will come a time when we are torn apart forever, never able to speak to one another again, and I cannot lose you, either. Please, Crowley.
Slowly, Crowley's wings unfurl again, spreading wide against the stars, blotting them out. Hellfire reflects on his obsidian feathers, tinging them with the colors sunsets used to be on Earth. The serpents looped in wheels around his core begin to spin faster, the eyes all over them closing. His core brightens, burning black and blue and purple, and Aziraphale must shield all of his own eyes from it.
Do you know why I kept going back? Crowley's voice filters through the light, clear and strong.
To change things, Aziraphale says, ready to argue that together they can change things, that this time it will be different, but Crowley speaks over his unspoken arguments.
To see you again.
The sands of time drop from under Aziraphale's feet, and he is plunged into utter darkness.
When Aziraphale opens his eyes, there is a sword in his hand, raised to strike. Crowley is sprawled on his knees at Aziraphale's feet and the world is trembling with the end and everything is too loud. He can feel the taste of bitter words on his tongue and he knows what he has just said.
"Come up with something or-"
Crowley looks between him and the sword, and Aziraphale feels a hundred years of war and loneliness yawning between them, threatening to swallow them whole. They have mere seconds. The sword's tip lowers, and Aziraphale shakes his head a little. A sword has no place between them. Nothing in the entire world has a place getting between them, not anymore, not ever again.
"Or I'll never talk to you again."
He sees so many things in Crowley's beautiful, golden eyes, but most of all, realization and a relief that thunders into blind determination. Crowley remembers. This is different. They are different, now. Aziraphale feels it in his core when Crowley stands, throwing his hands to the sky and calling upon every last shred of power available to him.
The world does not, exactly, end.
But, this time, it does begin again.