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End of the world party

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21.12.2012, Friday. Two hours before the end of the world

"If this really is the end of the world, what would you regret the most?"

The immediate thought that came shooting into Azira's mind was attending this party in the first place.

 

In his entire life, he’s never felt this lonely as he was when sitting among the celebrating crowd of his former classmates.

It wasn't like he'd been an unpopular outcast or such back in school, but he was sure that if it weren't for Anathema and Newton, he wouldn't have been invited to this party at all.
With those two being vanished and nowhere to be found - although Azira anticipated them to be the source of the indistinct noises coming from the bedroom nearby – he was left alone.

As alone as one can be while being drawn into Sodom and Gomorrah; constantly bumping into sweaty bodies that are caught in their delirious urge to move and the sweet clouds of their alcoholic excesses and own deodorant.

 

Your biggest regret.

 

Sighing, he looked into his drink. An atrociously bad balanced mix of vodka and orange juice someone had handed him.

Light tipsiness washed over him and took him and his ability to walk in a straight line in a strike.

This would be his last drink since he didn't plan on staying for any much longer.

He's never been enough of a masochist to torture himself with hanging around people who had never cared for his existence and who most certainly wouldn't start doing so right now.

And in case the end of the world wouldn't be coming, his brother Gabriel would gladly summon it upon Azira's life if he found out Azira had snuck out to be here.

 

Out of courtesy, he had planned to stay just another half an hour and then take flight, already longing for familiar warmth and the slight squeak of his mattress that usually welcomed his weary body. Yearning to respectfully trace the edges of his current read with the cups of his fingers, wrapping the bookmark around them and being sucked into a better, fictional world of limitless imagination-
In the meanwhile, he would walk around, sip from his cup and inspect the party decor that consisted of cheesy attempts of recreating some sort of Mayan symbolism but rather looked like someone unboxed the remains of their last Mexico trip.
There were some calendars scattered around, just like many plastic cups and bright party garlands.

 

One garland, a long, loosely hanging rope with colourful sticky notes attached to it, had especially piqued his interest the whole evening.
More specifically, the heading above it:

“If this really is the end of the world, what would you regret the most?”

 

There were most certainly many things Azira regretted in his 20 years of life.

Things he did that kept him up at night, rolling in his bed soaked in sweat and anguish.

Things he said that managed to cause searing pain of shame in his stomach.

Things he chose to commit to, things he chose not to because of the expectations he wanted to fulfil.

When suddenly one of these things stood next to him in this more quiet corner of the house, his intoxicated head jerked in shock as if his soul wanted to leave his body.

 

“Well, that’s some wild party if you ask me. Went right down like a lead balloon.”

Decades, centuries, millennia could have passed and Azira would still recognize this nonchalant tone in this one particular voice despite the deafeningly loud bass pulsating through the ground they were standing on.

Azira’s heart filled his chest with beaming light just the same way his eyes lit up; they threw softly crackling sparkles of electricity towards the dark figure next to him.

“…Crowley!”

 

Flashes of words Azira wanted to say frantically appeared before his eyes and the sheer masses of relieve, thoughts and endeavours averted any coherent outcome.

“You’re…here,” he stated then, far more restrained than intended.

“Yeah. And you’re, too. I mean, obviously.”

The blond awkwardly shifted his weight.

 

“So,” Crowley started anew, fidgeting with the cup in his hand, “the end of the world, huh?”

“I suppose.”

He tried his best to not blatantly stare at Crowley and then again he couldn’t help himself but examine his skinny, angular body from head to toe.
Crowley’s previous long, ginger curls were cut off.

Azira remembered running his fingers through their velvety softness.

Playfully tugging on them in the backseat of a car; a fading Queen song accompanied the fragment of memory.

They haven’t talked in a year, and Crowley’s hair was short.

 

“What would you say about Armageddon as a soon-to-be pastor?”

“There wouldn’t be much time to say anything about it if it actually was to arrive, would it?”

“You know what I mean.”

“Well,” Azira huffed musing, “I presume it’d be rather blasphemous to claim to fully understand God’s ineffable plan for this world.”

“So you don’t know shit?” Crowley grinned.

“I know that I know nothing,” Azira quoted, joining Crowley with a silly smirk and nipping from his drink.

 

“What about you? Wasn’t your step-father some kind of paranoid apocalypse prepper?”

Crowley’s elongated groan served as a self-explanatory answer.

“Ugh, ‘don’t want to think about him. You won’t believe it, he and my mom actually drove out of the city to stay the night in some kind of bunker. Absolutely bonkers.”

 

Azira knew that they were just dodging the inevitable talk that they had to have with this conversation, but the traitorous, fist-sized organ in his chest hammered too fast to start anything nearly serious or emotional without him fainting.

 

“And you didn’t go with them?” he asked and pretended to take another sip out of his already empty cup to hide his red cheeks.

Snorting, Crowley sauntered towards the wall to lean against it and face Azira as much as his shades allowed it.

“No! Have you ever been to a bunker? I’d rather go through hell and back than spend my Friday night in a tight, stuffy, dark room with my mom and her arse of a husband again. They once made me go with them when I was 8, New Year’s Eve in 2000. He told me the world was about to end and that everybody I knew outside was dying. Who does something like that to a kid, seriously? That’s just fucked up.”
He fell silent before muttering under his breath.
“Plus, they didn’t ask me to join them.”

 

“Oh Crowley,” Azira sighed with genuine pity in his voice.

Cautiously, he made some baby steps towards Crowley but then hesitated to sympathetically rub his upper arm as his heart told him to.

“I’m sorry, I really am,” he said softly instead.

“Don’t. Really. I don’t actually care.”

 

Oh, how much he did care. The more he denied it, the more his words were dripping with how hurt he was, and Crowley knew it himself.

 

“Also, it’s not your fault my family doesn’t care about me, angel-“

Both froze in their motions when Azira’s former pet name rolled over Crowley’s lips with so much habitual naturalness that it seemed like nothing ever happened between them.

As if their relationship hasn’t been on a break for almost one year now.

 

“Err- I mean…if that name’s not okay with you-“

“No, don’t fret. As a matter of fact, I missed hearing it.”

Both young men gulped simultaneously.

“Crowley, listen-“
“I actually put up one of those regret thingies here. Do you want to read it?”

Before Azira could make the littlest peep, Crowley ripped one neon-yellow note from the rope. Azira didn’t fail to notice the slight tremor in Crowley’s hands when he handed it to him.

“Not to be all sappy or anything. I just-“

Dear.” Flickering party lights glistened in Azira’s teary eyes that couldn’t stop scanning the text over and over again. “Oh dearest, I didn’t know…!”

“Huh, now you do.”

Crowley tilted his head and gnashed his teeth.

 

Thankfully, his dark shades were hiding any expression of insecurity, every glimpse of vulnerability that left Crowley wondering if he wasn’t, in fact, standing naked in front of Azira.

In contrast, his feelings on the note were.
Naked, raw, unfiltered.

 

“I don’t expect you to return it. ‘Thought you should know. Before the world ends and all, that is.”

A little amused hum escaped Azira’s throat, and he again stroked the messy handwriting.

“If the world really was to end today, it would have been quite cruel of you to only confess this right now…”

Crowley flinched under Azira’s words but looked up again when fluffy clouds of platinum blond hair tickled his jawline. He clung to the embrace as if Azira’s soft body was the foot of a cliff.

“…since there would almost be no time for me to return my feelings.”

The grip of Crowley’s hands on his shoulder blades tightened.

“I’m so, so terribly sorry for everything I said last year,” Azira continued, the dizziness of his racing heart joined forces with his drunkenness; his cheeks felt like burning when Crowley’s cold fingers touched them. “I couldn’t forgive myself for sending you away. I should have called, I should have stood up for you-“

“Angel.”

It was unfathomable to Azira how Crowley managed to create such adoring, affectionate severity with one word. But he did.

Azira immediately lapsed into anticipatory silence, closely watching Crowley’s lips.

 

“The only one who should be begging on his knees for forgiveness is me,” he pressed through his teeth, “I should have never pressured you into choosing between me and your family. Especially considering the state I was in. I hung around the wrong crowd. Lost focus on the important things and people. You.”

 

This had to be a dream, Azira figured.

There was absolutely no way they would simply meet at this party and apologize to each other.

Crowley must be some kind of relentless illusion that was now haunting and ridiculing him.

After all, his head still tried to process the words on Crowley’s note as if he just recently learned how to read.

 

Not telling him I love him when I should have.

Telling him I love him.

I love him.

“I already forgave you all of that a long time ago, love.”

 

“Well, I do think it depends on what kind of apocalypse we’re talking about,” Azira brooded, his breath condensated into the dark winter night.

The two of them agreed on continuing their conversation on the balcony outside since it was far more silent and composed there compared to the roaring energy that was unfolding inside the apartment.

One would think the constant little shiver in their bodies would be caused by the piercing cold wind, but it couldn’t be further from the truth:
Azira felt like a sparkling fire burned inside his torso, as if he was melting into every touch, and for that, it just required one accidental brushing of fingers.

 

“There are many possibilities such as natural catastrophes, maybe a fatal meteorite impact?” he then suggested.

“Being wiped out like dinosaurs?”

“I mean, it could also be a slow environmental collapse. The end doesn’t have to come with one bang.”

“Nah, don’t think so.” Crowley rested his hands on the balcony’s railing and stared into London’s bright, vivacious nightlife. “With all those shiny weapons we’ve got, some people just must be way too eager to try them out at least once. It just takes a few imbecile, easily to provoke authorities who never got over the pathetic size of their pecker and voilà, there you’ve got your nuclear war!”

“What about a zombie outbreak, though? That would seem like a pretty ferocious way to end things to me.”

“You think God would be old school enough to send another zombie after the last one caused a 2000 years lasting stir?”

Azira made a tutting sound but smiled softly when Crowley nudged him cackling.

 

“The last thing that would spontaneously come to me would be an alien invasion-“

“Oh, I wouldn’t mind being abducted by aliens,” Crowley joked and tried to put his hands into the ridiculously small pockets of his pants, “imagine living among the stars, wobbling through space.”

“I’d expect the aliens to rather enslave and exploit you than to provide adventurous space holidays, don’t you think?”

“You’re no fun. No, that may be, but honestly, so what? There’s not much on this planet keeping me here right now-“
“Dear, don’t say that-“
“Nothing but you, of course.”

Azira blinked a few times, flustered.
“Oh…”

There was a brief silence.

“I guess our flirting game hasn’t become stronger since graduating.”

“I’m afraid it hasn’t.”

They snickered with faces glowing brighter than any gleaming red billboard on the street beneath them.

 

“Say, angel,” Crowley said and adjusted Azira’s scarf that was twisted behind his shoulder, “you, err…you haven’t seen anyone in that time, have you?”

He couldn’t look away from the sweet blush blooming on his angel’s nose, the peachy gloss on his nervously quivering lips.

“I didn’t know I was supposed to do so. Did you?”

“No!” it shot out of Crowley, and he bit onto the insides of his cheeks, ashamed of his rapid answer, “no, I didn’t…I just…Well, we never actually said it out loud. If we were exclusive and such. Especially during the last year. I kinda just assumed it.”

 

He knew it wasn’t quite the situation to do so, however, Azira couldn’t help himself but laugh.

The entire situation, the warmth, the pure feeling of happiness and calmness rushed through his veins, and Azira just wanted to give this state a sound.

Crowley looked mortified.

 

“Are you actually making fun of me, you cruel bastard?”

“Oh dear Heavens, no!” Azira wiped away a little tear before leaning against Crowley’s shoulder. “I just remember Prom Night in 2010. Even that night, I was still confused and wondering whether you liked me.”

“We literally made out on the backseat of the Bentley that day.”

“Precisely.”

“How can someone so intelligent like you be so stupidly oblivious?”

“As you said, we never said it out loud.”

Crowley puffed playfully dismissive, but the relieved laughter bubbling out of him destroyed that act.

 

Azira lifted his head from Crowley’s shoulder and looked directly into his eyes- he would have if dark glasses wouldn’t be blocking the way.
Suddenly, goosebumps started spreading over his skin despite the previous heat.

“Would you…like to say it out loud now?” Azira whispered, already tasting Crowley’s spicy breath of neat scotch on his own lips.

“We’ve never been good with words.” Crowley’s thumb tenderly brushed over Azira’s bottom lip. “Actions, though-“

He couldn’t wait for Crowley to end his sentence and kissed him instead.
A pure, chaste kiss at first.

But when Crowley overcame his initial shock and started kissing back, the pent up passion of 12 months of yearning, pain and merciless memories flowed through their bodies and exchanged at every spot they touched. Electrifying.

At this moment, Azira thought, he couldn’t care less about this party.

When Crowley would gently brush the shell of his ear and wipe a blond curl behind it, he couldn’t care less about every single soul on this world but Crowley’s.

He wouldn’t even care if there was his family watching and judging them.
And he definitely couldn’t care less if the world was to end right now.

 

“What is your family going to say if they see me strutting out of your room every morning? I won’t climb out of your window again.”

“I already told you I’m sorry about your broken leg!” Azira cried out, drunk by now since they had another drink or two, and stroked said leg.

“Sorry won’t heal bones,” Crowley teased and kissed the blond’s forehead to calm him down, “no, but for real. I don’t want to repeat my mistakes and pressure you into hasty, immediate decisions, but your family will exorcise my gay arse if I make one step in your house again.”

“You know, Gabriel wouldn’t allow me to go out tonight, so I snuck out.”

Crowley tore his eyes open, a pleasantly surprised sparkle in them.
“You did what???”

“I snuck out,” Azira admitted again and laughed a little drained, “If he knew I was disre-…reg…disrr- ignoring his orders and seeing you here, of all people, he’d be making my life living hell.”

“Even more reason to do so, isn’t it?” Crowley said with a smug smile and went in for another kiss, but Azira just shook his head.

“The more I think about the end of the world and you and me, the more I realise I need to make my own decisions.”

“It’s really unfortunate you need a potential apocalypse to come to that conclusion, angel.”

“I don’t want to become a pastor. I don’t want to do what Gabriel or my parents tell me. I want to be with you. We’ll just take over my uncle’s bookshop as soon as he retires: I’ll sell books, or at least I will try to, you can sell plants and flowers and- and-,” Azira gasped in his ecstatic state of sheer love and progressing alcohol poisoning.

“And no one can stop us. We’ll have our own lives,” Crowley finished Azira’s rambling.

“Yes!”

They toasted to their lives with the last sip of their respective beverages and a small kiss.

 

Azira had to cough and then took a look at his wristwatch.

“Oh, it’s midnight soon…”

“Do you want me to give you a ride?” Crowley suggested, showcasing his car keys to Azira.

“I fear my parents really can’t see me like this-“
“Didn’t we just talk about you stepping up against your parents?”

“I’ll begin with it when the world stops spinning and I’ll be able to articular-…articulate my rebellion.”

Crowley offered his arm to hold onto and Azira immediately took it – actually more out of the urge to have his boyfriend!!! close than he needed that physical support.

 

“Hm, well, I mean…” Another smirk crept on Crowley’s face, no matter how hard he tried to keep it down. “You can always come to my place you know.”

“That would be quite lovely. But are you sure you can drive like this?”

“Oh, I’m good, don’t worry. Actually, I think I’m an even better driver when I had a drink!”

Azira internally decided to pretend he overheard the last statement and followed Crowley through the door, letting the party and its guest behind them.

 

There was no time to wallow in reminiscences when tumbling into Crowley’s old teenage room, sucking on each other’s lips. There was no time to inspect the changes in band posters or the decreased amount of house plants when they would rather use it to fervidly clash their mouths – and sometimes even accidentally teeth – together.

Crowley groaned hoarsely when Azira let his fingers run achingly slowly over his chin, his neck, prominent collar bone and then vanish in the tip of his v-neck.

If one mere finger could cause him to lose his senses, so Crowley thought, he probably didn’t want to know what would happen if there were completely different body parts involved- or maybe more than ever.

In the darkness of his room he could only roughly make out Azira’s facial features, but the smaller one sighed so contently when Crowley would adoringly cup his soft, puffy cheeks to plant another, but sweeter kiss onto his lips.

He always kept his shutters closed since Crowley’s eyes have been very sensitive to light by birth, but he felt like it didn’t need an extra source of illumination with the light of his life standing right in front of him. Not that he would say that out loud.

 

The slight twitching of Azira’s nose mixed itself into their kiss and the blond quickly pulled away so he wouldn’t sneeze into Crowley’s face.

“Oh, pardon!”

“That almost sounds like chatting outside on a balcony in December wasn’t the smartest idea we’ve ever had,” Crowley needled the sniffing Azira and pinched him.

“Not like there have ever been many smart ideas of ours.”

“True. How about this one: Let’s tuck you in and sleep a little?”

Their racing hearts were a testimony to the fact neither of them actually wanted to go to sleep given by the sheer possibilities of indulging in other nocturnal activities-

But Crowley didn’t want things to go too fast for Azira – or an at least sobered-up Azira who would be overanalysing the entire situation and starting to panic.

Another sneeze settled things for both.

 

As they laid in bed, spooning in a pleasantly warm embrace, Crowley plastered the back of Azira’s head with endless pecks.

Wondering how an insufferable, spoiled person like himself was deserving of holding a literal angel in his arms.

Of this feeling of a world so safe and sound when listening to Azira’s calm breath.

It held him captive, synching his own breath and heartbeat to it.

And it had the power to blank out all other surroundings.

Pure serenity.

He couldn’t even hear the sounds of sirens and helicopters’ outside.

22.12.2012, Saturday. Twelve hours after the end of the world

Crowley wouldn’t have left the bed, the mesmerising warmth of it and the soft, chubby leg his angel innocently slid between Crowley’s in his sleep if it wasn’t for the loud bang on the front door that resounded through the entire house.

Thump. Thump.

“Bloody hell.”

Azira didn’t seem to notice anything as he still was sleeping like a rock. His body must be doing a hard work processing last night’s intoxication.

Carefully, Crowley peeled himself out of Azira’s arms and the layers of blankets to then reach for the shades on his nightstand and put them on.

Thump. Thump.

 

“Yeah, yeah! I’m coming!” he snarled when approaching the door, only in his boxers and a black tank top.

The audacity to disturb his slumber shouldn’t be rewarded with Crowley’s otherwise impeccable appearance, he figured. Especially if the person deliberately chose to bang at his door rather than just simply using the bell. Rude.

 

If it isn’t at least someone dying-
He immediately regretted muttering his thought when opening the door.

 

In front of him, there stood his neighbour, Mrs Blair.

Usually, she was an incredibly sweet person.

She had cheeks like two ripe red apples and a smile that made Crowley love her as if she was an additional grandmother.

Right now, she didn’t look like either.

“Mrs Blair? Is everything alright with you?”

Her darkened eyes were ripped open as if she’s seen directly into the abysmal pits of hell: The black of her pupils was scattered and sprinkled all across her iris and sclera; the parts that weren’t overcast from light-absorbing darkness were small blood-shot clusters of burst capillaries.

She just stood there.
Watching him silently.

A cold shiver ran down Crowley’s spine. He clutched at the door handle.

 

“Are you-“
“The light! It is the light!” she whispered, repeating the word over and over again and louder every time she did, “it’s the light, it was so, so red, the light, red light it was-…”

 

Something was off.

The presentiment of danger was gnawing on his nerves.

 

“The sky was bright, and so, oh so red.
Most people couldn’t bare seeing it,
the light.
They couldn’t, they just couldn’t see the light,
the sky. They couldn’t see the light,
I couldn’t,
I can’t.”

“I’m not sure if I completely understand what you’re trying to tell me, Mrs Blair, I’m so sorry. Please, calm down!”

He made a step aside so she could come in.

It didn’t feel right to leave her alone right now.
For all he knew, she was probably having a stroke right now.

As she didn’t move, he made it his business to gently pull her into the house and not rest until she would sit shivering on the couch in the living room.

 

“I’m going to make you some tea and in the meanwhile, you’re taking calm breaths, alright?”

Again, she wouldn’t give any response different than frantically chanting light.

Without one second to spare, he ran into the kitchen and picked up the landline to call the ambulance.

Nothing.

More than nothing, the phone wouldn’t even dial.

The battery must be empty then.

The numb feeling in his stomach wouldn’t stop spreading until it reached his throat from where it started constricting his airway.

Adrenaline rushed through his veins.

 

Crowley turned around to go upstairs and get his mobile phone instead but something suddenly interfered with his plans.

Two hands wrapped around his neck, to be exact.

They belonged to a pair of pitch-black eyes;
holes in a pallid face.

He choked.

Chapter Text

22.12.2012, Saturday. Twelve hours after the end of the world

 

Crowley felt like falling.
When looking into those dark holes, he felt like burning through the sky; sharp wind whipping his face, pressing searing tears of pain and pressure out of his eyes.
He felt like falling, and there was no prospect of an end.

There was no room and space, no sun nor light as he was just falling into mere nothingness, into those black vitreous buttons down at the unreachable ground that were incorporating all of his fears and displaying them in their matte reflection.
The grip on his throat tightened and he managed to look away.
He struggled, frenetically gasping.

Crowley didn’t know what strange condition could cause his neighbour, a true paradigm of the ideal sweet pea of a grandma, to go berserk on him.

Another thing he couldn’t explain to himself was how strong she was – no elderly woman should be this strong.

 

“…S-St…Sto-…Please-,” he croaked out between the varying thrusts of brutality she exerted on his throat, but he sounded like a static old radio fighting against pelting rain.

Adrenaline, the lack of oxygen, dark dark furrows laid an asphyxiating veil of dizziness over Crowley’s face.
Tears of pain and despair burned in his eyes as he started scratching her forearms without any demureness. He pressed his fingernails deeply into her flesh until he felt warm, viscous liquid drip over his palms, but this woman-shaped, savage being just uttered an inhumane screech before clenching her hands even more forceful.
If she wouldn’t just compress and crush his Adam’s apple between her wrinkled hands, his racing heart would jump out of his throat.

 

This couldn’t be it.
He was a 20-year-old botany student.
He was beginning to get a grip on life, he sorted all toxicity out of it.
He was looking forward to his future – his future with Azira and Azira only. Their future of their little shop, of coming to their home and unwinding on their couch like it’s nobody else’s business.
Things were good for once, for somebody’s sake.
He couldn’t fucking die right now.

Crowley’s body seemed to have the same will to live: One last boost of inciting hormones and vigour rushed through his veins and he pushed and kicked like there was no tomorrow. Quite literally.

When he hit her straight in the liver, Mrs Blair – or rather her corporal remnants – slightly tumbled back from Crowley and the kitchen counter she was pressing the young man against.

 

Breathing never felt more exciting, air never tasted sweeter and yet exhilaratingly painful.
Sadly enough, there wasn’t much time to relish the moment.

Instead, Crowley was faced with the thudding pain of his hair getting pulled in one swift motion and his head being smashed onto the kitchen counter’s black marble.
With an addled groan, his body dropped onto the tiles like a wet sandbag.

Respiratory distress and this deafening ringing in his ear blurred his sight into slender slits swimming idly before his eyes.
Enough to see the flash of a blade she took out of the nearby knife block.

 

He made an unbelievably physically demanding effort to slide away from her.

But as his back hit the wall, his heart and stomach dropped. Just like his eyelids.

 

Crowley would never scold his plants again, watch an episode of Golden Girls; his ears would never be blessed by the divine sensation that was listening to a Queen song-
He would never hold his angel again. Never watch him flash a smile the sun could be jealous of. Never caress this one specific spot on Azira’s shoulder blades that made him sigh so heavenly content.
A feeling heavier in his chest than the prior power pulling him into the void.

 

The thumping sound of a heavy body hitting the ground, though, made him open his bloodshot eyes reluctantly again.
And once they met with anxious, but familiar aquamarine his spirits lifted faster than the speed of light.

Azira stood there, the broken remains of a terracotta plant pot in his shivering hands. The rest of it was shattered around Mrs Blair’s head that was all covered in dirt and potting compost.

 

“Crowley!” he cried out and let the shards fall to the ground to drop on his knees next to Crowley. There was no control in Azira’s fingers when they frantically grasped him and cupped his bruised face, when they trembled over his turgid neck. “Are you alright??? Please, for God’s sake, oh please-“

Crowley found it to be excruciatingly difficult to breathe calmly, but a relieved moan escaped his swollen lips that he had maltreated with his teeth while fighting for his dear life.

“O-Oh Crowley, I’m-…Oh, dear, my- my love, oh- God.”
“You should know best I’m everything but God,” Crowley’s voice rasped like an untuned fiddle, but the stupid, inappropriate comment was enough for Azira’s concerned face to soften a little, and then fall into his arms.

“What happened?”
“I-“ Crowley began, but his thoughts were scattered to the four winds, “I really don’t know. She knocked and looked totally out of place, so I invited her in and then she just suddenly went bonkers and started choking me and-…knives and-“
His hoarse voice scratched in his sore throat and gulped with a painful expression.
“Maybe she’s having a stroke. Or a really bad trip.”
“She doesn’t quite look like the type to take drugs to me,” Azira mused.
Both looked to the unconscious woman on the floor. Her silver hair wetted and clumped together by her own sticky blood that was collecting itself in a crimson puddle.

“I did not kill her, did I?!” Azira exclaimed utterly horrified by the sight of the blood biting irreversibly into the tiles’ white joints. Panicking, he pulled out of the embrace, got up and stumbled to her to press a kitchen towel onto the back of her head. For a second he felt like screaming in relieved comfort as he could feel her pulse. “I didn’t want to actually hurt her, I just-…”
“Hey, it was the absolutely right thing to do! You need to calm down!”
“N-No, we need to call someone this instant, the police, an ambulance, someone-“
“Azira, it was her head or mine in this situation and you did what your intuition told you. There’s nothing inherently evil about it. And now I need you to take a deep breath for both of us, go upstairs and bring your phone, alright?” Crowley interrupted Azira’s apprehensive rambling and pulled himself up.
A little too fast for his impaired circulation which is why he clung to the kitchen counter like his life depended on it.

“Ah…sure, I’ll be right back. I'm begging you, take care of yourself!”
Azira, still visibly upset, immediately wanted to make a run for it, but abruptly stopped when Crowley called for him again.
“Angel?”
“Yes?” Azira panted.
“Please also draw an extra pair of sunglasses out of my nightstand, would you?”
“Of course, my dear…!”
“And don’t look outside any window.”
Azira shot him a confused glance, but didn’t protest and proceeded to rush upstairs.

When he returned with the objects Crowley demanded, he discovered him placing the still blacked out body against a wall and tying up her hands with another kitchen towel.

“What are you doing?”
“I don’t trust this. All of this is way too suspicious.”
“What do you even mean?”
“Look at your phone.”

Nothing of the things Crowley said made any coherent sense to Azira. When he looked into his screen, however, he rose his eyebrows perplexedly.

“It doesn’t work, does it?” Crowley asked.
“I could swear I charged it.”
“Nothing slightly electronic works anymore.”
“That’s nonsense. There simply must have been a power failure.”
Crowley shook his head and snorted doubtfully before picking up his own shades he lost while being attacked. His angel watched him put them on, still bewildered and confused as if he was to put together a 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

“What about the pair I was supposed to bring you?”
“Put them on and don’t take them off unless I tell you to do so.”
“You’re being more and more cryptic, Crowley!” Azira reproached with frustration boiling in him.

With the usual shades on his face, Azira couldn’t see Crowley’s bloody red eyeballs or the widespread petechiae surrounding them, but the mere knowledge of those bruises hurt so much within him that his voice trembled with raging despair.

“Tell me what’s going on!”
“I have no idea! I just have a bad feeling about everything. Before she snapped on me, she wouldn’t stop mumbling something about the light, so, please. I know it sounds weird and it makes no sense, but please put on those glasses and stay here. I’ll ask the neighbours if their phones work and make an emergency call from there.”
“You can’t go out like this!”
“Ugh, I’m fine,” Crowley said and nonchalantly waved his hand like Azira’s concerns were a fly he shooed away, “it’s just a little scratch in the throat, really.”

He cleared said throat but it felt like he was swallowing a bunch of rusty nails.

Azira narrowed his brows in disbelief.

“Come on, angel, I need you to stay here and look after her. I’ll be right back.”
“You will be the death of me.”
“Maybe, but this woman most certainly will be if you don’t keep an eye on her right now.”
A defeated sigh concluded their argument and Azira made a few steps towards the unconscious Mrs Blair, but Crowley caught him a last time to lovingly press him against his chest. There was no elapsing second in which Azira hesitated to hug him back.

“I haven’t even thanked you for saving my life yet.”
“As you said, it was my intuition. I’m just so glad I was here in time,” Azira whispered, heartfelt and fragile. He gasped softly as Crowley tightened the embrace as if it was their last.
“Oh, you don’t even know how many times you already saved my life, angel.”
Crowley’s mellow breath blowing into his blond curls manifested a brief but genuine smile onto Azira’s lips.
“The feeling is mutual, dearest.”

They parted. Not for all that long.

 

It almost had some kind of comedic effect to watch Crowley open the door, shoot one acute glance outside and immediately slam it shut again.
What didn’t look as funny was his pale face shimmering for cold sweat, nearly bloodless as he leaned against the door with his entire body weight.

Azira popped his head out of the kitchen, startled by the loud sounds.

“Are you back already? Did something happen?”
“…”
“Dear?”

Crowley left Azira’s questions unanswered and shoved himself away from the door to hurry upstairs.

A terrifying pounding caused to make the door quake in its hinges.
Subconscious instincts made sirens go off in Azira’s head, and he felt his nervous, his dry tongue stuck to his teeth.

Those sirens went deafening loud when Crowley reappeared in the living room – this time with a gun in his hands.

“Is this a real-“
“No, I’m just carrying toys around for the fun of it!” Crowley sneered tensely, “Of course it is a real gun! It’s my stepfather’s, the stupid idiot told me the code for his safe once when he was drunk.”
“Why would we need a real gun?” Azira demanded to know even though he knew the answer and grew more certain with every punch from outside. “What did you see outside?!”
“…”
Crowley nervously fidgeted with the revolver.
The doorknob started shaking as someone was forcefully jolting it.

“Crowley!”
His agitated silence reacted like methylated spirits with the fire that was Azira’s anxiety and premonition.
…Anthony!

Hearing his first name has become such a great rarity that Crowley immediately rushed back into reality at the unfamiliar sound of it. He shoved the gun, still on safety, into one of his pockets and grabbed Azira by his upper arms.

 

“Listen, I don’t have the slightest clue what’s going on outside, but in the blink of a second I saw two people jump from their roofs and crash onto the asphalt, getting up despite their bones sticking out of their limbs and running towards me.”

The pounding didn’t stop, no, it rather intensified as if the number of hands beating multiplied.
Azira’s eyes widened behind the sunglasses.

“So, believe me, we’ll need the gun.”

The next shock that made both young men jump was the indistinct moaning coming from the kitchen.
They didn’t move, didn’t dare to blink.

Another guttural growl.

“She’s tied up, right?” Azira mouthed, breathless.
“Yes, but I’m not interested in finding out for how long.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I don’t care as long as we’re doing it fast.”
Azira gulped before looking around, discovering car keys in a small bowl next to the door.
“May we reckon that your car’s not going to work if all other devices are down?”
“…There’s only one way to find out.”

Of course.
He almost regretted suggesting the car.

 

Together they tiptoed through the long corridor next to the stairs to find the backdoor which was made completely out of glass and only covered by a thin, translucent curtain. The dim sunlight faintly glowing through it felt cold; less of an actual feeling of temperature, but rather causing a nasty, frigid frisson on one’s skin.
Crowley intertwined their fingers tightly as if his right hand was a snapping bear trap. The other one slowly pushed the curtain aside.
The backyard was empty. Nothing but a lonely swing, slightly pushed by a breeze.

“Are you ready?”
Azira was sure he’d never be.

He felt like he was being the one choked right now, as if his anxiety’s festering, filthy hands had his throat in a ruthless grip.
Even so, he limply squeezed Crowley’s hand in his and nodded in a paralysed daze as Crowley reluctantly clasped the door handle.

“I got you.”
Only a seven-letter promise, but enough in gravitas and meaning to let Azira take a breath again.

“I got you,” Azira repeated Crowley’s words, the same unconditional care and support swinging in a delicate whisper.

And then, they ran.

 

Not that there was any particular interest in doing so, but Azira had no time to inspect his surroundings while being hectically pulled through the wicket gate. Its backstabbing, terribly loud squeak of old iron almost made both men swear out loud.
No, his only focus was the immaculately clean Bentley parked in front of the garage.

However, if Azira had had the time to look around, he wouldn’t have seen anything that would have eased the pain of his weak nerves draining his composure as hungry leeches and parasites normally did with their helpless host:

The streets were littered with tossed rubbish bins and their scattered contents, creating a revolting tinge of sweet decay in the air that mixed itself with the stench of leaking engine fluids; car wrecks dominated the non-existing traffic. Some, crashed into concrete walls, were folded like concertinas, other’s just stood there, unattended, with small, already decreasing flames crackling out of them. A fire hydrant had been knocked over a few streets over, and its sheer endless masses of water flooded the tarmac as if it was unsuccessfully trying to wash away the unfolding catastrophe. It couldn’t wash away the motionless bodies floating in it, though.

The world looked like a messy child’s playground the kid’s grown tired of playing with.

 

Crowley let go of Azira’s hand to open the car, and as soon as the lock clicked, they jumped into the seats.
For a brief second, they just sat in the soft leather and breathed.

“Alright, alright,” Crowley mumbled shakily and tried to shove the key into the hole.

Keeping control over your hands seemed like an impossible thing to do if you saw three snarling men approaching you in mad hobbles, murderous frenzy in their black eyes.

He dropped the keys into the legroom.

Instantly, he ducked down to quickly get them and when he rose again, he directly stared into a white face smashing itself unrestrainedly into the driver’s side’s window.

“CROWLEY!” Azira’s scream made him aware of the other man-like creature that was using an actual brick to destroy the window on the other side. “Start. The. Car!”

He nodded and twisted the keys; a numb feeling in his entire body spread from his chest into every little muscle.

Fuck!!!

It would have been way too easy if the engine had started right away and could have driven off into the sunset in old Hollywood glamour, wouldn’t it?

Growing cracks started to ravenously devour the glass.

 

Crowley spun the keys again, and again, and a fourth time and the car just made weary, distressed sounds like a dying cat.

“No, don’t even think of leaving me right now,” Crowley hissed and maniacally moved the keys back and forth, “no, you are going to work, you will fucking start right now.”

Another twist, another failing attempt.

“No, no, no!”

The keys became slippery wet from his sweaty palms yanking them around.

 

Azira’s window started to crumble.
A brute claw wormed its way through the small hole, not caring about the deep cuts; the man tried to jerk his hand into the car in erratic thrusts against the sharp glass that messily peeled the top layer off of his skin.

Nausea crept over Azira’s skin, nurtured by profound disgust and his own racing heart.

 

While Crowley desperately made an effort to rip off the tightly-screwed plastic cover on the steering column so he could try hot-wiring it, Azira was hysterically shifting from his seat towards Crowley to dodge the dripping arms snatching for him. Half on his back, he held onto the headrest and used the extra support to kick his bare feet vehemently into the intruder who didn’t seem to mind at all.
The ends of the tracksuit trousers Crowley has had given him to sleep in were soaked in vile warmth, the worn-out band shirt in cold sweat.

The hand got a grip of one of Azira’s feet.

As it relentlessly twisted his limb in one unhealthy direction, he cried a bloodcurdling scream and reached out for the keys himself.

 

There was no explanation for what happened when Azira rotated the keys, but both Azira and Crowley wanted to cry tears of an extremity of joy as the engine suddenly howled and came back to life.

Crowley engaged a gear and floored the accelerator.

Unbelted, Azira’s body was roughly pushed onto Crowley’s lap by the laws of physic, his head almost hitting the steering wheel if it wasn’t for Crowley cushioning his jolt with his own arms in the last second. Fortunately, those same laws made the man lose his hold of Azira’s foot.

The force dragged him a few meters with them until his mauled hand completely slipped out from the slimy glass and he fell onto the hard ground.

Crunch.

The back wheel hit something hard but effortlessly obliterated it under its weight with a slight jump in the car’s spring.

Neither said a word when simultaneously shooting a look into the rear-vision mirror, watching the red tyre tracks they left behind.

When the policemen had demonstrated the importance of wearing a helmet in traffic back in primary school, so Crowley thought at this moment, they really haven’t gone overboard with the watermelon they had smashed onto the street.

 

For a few minutes, they just aimlessly drove in silence.
Developing comprehension of their situation left a tense taste in the air.

The word, the absurdly fatal expression of a dooming event that just couldn’t be occurring, haunted their thoughts and ridiculed their crumbling grasp on sanity.

This couldn’t be the end of the world.

It wouldn’t just come like this.

Not now.

 

It was the third time they drove in circles when they eventually talked again.
At least Crowley tried to do so.

“Where to?”

Crowley gently placed his hand on Azira’s knee. He sighed deeply as Azira wouldn’t react.

“Angel.”

“I’d-…” Azira was still lost in his own mind before he shook his head, his bottom lip caught between his teeth. “I’d say we should try with my home, but I’m not sure whether I’m ready to bear what I might see.”

“Your family will be fine, I’m sure,” Crowley blurted without thinking. He shouldn’t promise things he had no power of keeping.

“That’s a nice thing of you to say…”
“It’s not, I’m just being honest. Come on, your dad and Gabriel, they’re both absolute units. They’re most certainly able to protect themselves, your mom and Mik-…”
“Oh, they go by Michael now,” Azira interposed, almost as if this was a casual conversation, as if they didn’t just crush a man’s skull into red, chunky goo.

And somehow, this was exactly what they needed.

 

The driver’s eyebrows rose in astonishment.
“Well, nice for them. Explaining this must have been a family fun time.”

“Surprisingly enough, my parents didn’t actually care that much about it. I mean, they don’t take it all too seriously, and they still call them Mika from time to time, but as long as there’s someone else standing out negatively, both Michael and Gabriel were never actually scolded for anything.”

“Let me take a hot guess,” Crowley said, turning left, “that someone would be you?”

Azira imitated a ringing bell, causing a faint smile on Crowley’s lips.

“I sometimes feel like my parents would even forgive them openly committing homicide while I have to-“
Which brought him back to the wreck that was his guilty train of thought.

He paused.
Suppressing tears and rising stomach contents.

 

Eventually, they arrived in the neat suburban area Azira and his family resided in. Every house looked the exact same, the same architectural style, the same boring tint of grey, the same impeccable length in the grass on every front yard.

Needless to say, Azira never liked living here in particular, but the austere, quiet atmosphere of it all and the fact that no bloodthirsty maniacs went running around had its soothing aspects.

Crowley pulled into the driveway that wasn’t blocked by any other car.

Whether that was a good thing or not was yet to be determined.

 

“Hey,” Crowley hummed and softly nudged his motionless angel, “are you okay? I mean, as okay as someone can be in this situation-“ He probably should stop talking.

Azira nodded, clearly exhausted.

“What about your foot?”

“It does hurt. I’m afraid I might have sprained my ankle a little…”

That’s everything Crowley needed to hear to unbuckle, jump out of the car and walk around it, so he could open Azira’s door and help him out of it. A cold breeze brushed their heated heads as they limped over to the front door, Azira’s arm resting on Crowley’s shoulders. Now that their body’s had their literal cool-down from the inciting hormone cocktail mixed by panic and distress, they felt like freezing standing on Azira’s porch still in their sleepwear.

 

Azira reached over to the white ceramic angel statue that was standing next to the front door, slightly lifted it and took the hidden keys underneath it.
He opened the door.

Usually, Azira would have been greeted by furious glares and tangible disappointment, domestic sanctions and various insults after staging an operation like sneaking out at night and only returning in the early afternoon.

But at this very moment, the only thing welcoming him was taut silence and his own shadow appearing in the long hallway.

They inspected the entire first floor, closed all shutters, and Crowley carefully placed Azira on the cream-coloured couch that had a multitude of soft pillows waiting for his aching body. Tenderly, he let his fingers run over Azira’s foot while watching him intensely brood over everything.

It was unbearably quiet.

 

“I bet they drove away to some kind of safe place as soon as everything went down. Look, there are absolutely no signs of fighting and the car’s gone.”
“I suppose you’re right…”
“But?”
“…”

Azira choked on burning tears.

The sight of Azira’s eyes, the forlorn, damp glistening in them, made Crowley’s heart flutter so heavily as if it was a young bird being pulled down by a lead weight on his feet.
He protectively wrapped his arms around the silently weeping blond.
“Oh, angel…”

Shocked about his own emotional outbreak, Azira took a few deep breaths and clenched up to forcefully compose himself. Rubbing his eyes, he uncomfortably shifted on the cushion.

“Pardon me, I’m fine. I really am. For a second I was just-“

“You don’t have to lie to me. You’re not fine. I’m not fine. And I wholeheartedly believe we’re allowed to no feel fine right now.”

Azira looked at him with his mouth opened, before he closed it and his face became an aghast replica of his normally softened features.

 

“This really is the end of the world, isn’t it?”

“I-…I don’t know, Azira.”

“It has to be, the end. It all began- and…what, what if He took them?”

“Who?”

“God. What if He took them with him? If it’s the end of it all, maybe He took them with Him.”

Crowley laughed desperately.

“God would have some sick, twisted kind of humour if he’d take them and leave the only actual angel here on earth.”

This time, Azira couldn’t hold back any tears.

Chapter Text

22.12.2012, Saturday. 21 hours after the end of the world.

 

“Hey, angel.”

Azira lifted his weary head from the mattress and turned around to face Crowley accompanied by a confused twitch of his nose.

“Do you remember the game we used to play?”

 

For the last few hours, they just have been quietly resting in Azira’s bed.
Only listening to the rhythmic yet tragic music their confused hearts sang in unison, they lied, existed, in each other’s arms and desperately tried to not think about today’s grim events.

Miserably failing.

All the more did Crowley’s seemingly casual attempt of steering their thoughts into a more innocent, ingenious state of mind – a memory of a world safe and sound – manage to miracle a mellow smile into Azira’s face.

 

“Which game?” therefore he asked, eagerly longing for deliverance from this nerve-devouring silence.

“Huh, I don’t know,” Crowley snorted in an amused way that almost concealed the still remaining roughness in his injured throat, “maybe you could tell me, Mr Azira Zeppelin Fell.”

Scandalized, Azira drew himself up and bat his eyelashes in offended confusion.

“That’s not my name, no, I highly doubt that’s anyone’s name.”

“We never told each other our middle names. So, for all I know, Z. could stand for everything from Zach to ‘wanna zigazig ah’.”

Crowley cackled about his bad humorous remark and then felt the uncontrollable urge to hum the rest of ‘Wannabe’ in his head.

“That’s ridiculous,” Azira puffed and contorted his face to keep it as serious and matter-of-fact for the following joke, though the little quiver in his lips betrayed him. “The spice girls didn’t release that song until 1996.”

“Yeah, right, that’s the ridiculous part about it.”

 

They smiled at one another before Azira coughed and shot a playfully sceptical glance over to Crowley who was blissfully sighing as he pressed Azira’s now unused pillow and thus Azira’s residual heat within it against his chest.

“Brave words for someone that can’t prove to me his name isn’t, in fact, Anthony Janthony Crowley.”

“Hey!” he exclaimed with similar indignation as Azira’s prior little outrage, “My parents may have been many things: Neglectful, yes! Verbally and psychologically abusive, oh yeah! But they never would have been sadistic enough to call their only child ‘Anthony Janthony’.”

“Now that I’m thinking about it, I actually-…wait,” Azira mused and scratched the back of his curly head before getting up and drowsily tumbling to his messy work desk cluttered with an absurdly high amount of books stacked to the sky, various letters and notes, and sticky cups that still carried the sweetly scent of hot cocoa.

To Crowley, it occurred hardly reasonable how anyone could ever assume Azira was actually the perfectionist stickler for tidiness in their relationship.

 

Once he had opened the right drawer and had stuffed the small odds and ends blustering out of it back in, he drew an olive-green notebook out of the wooden bureau. In the only source of light that was dim, flickering candlelight, the golden ornaments on the cover seemed to glow.

He sat down next to Crowley again and opened the hand-sized book; other notes fell out of it, and so did a few rare-looking stamps and a Polaroid picture exceedingly familiar to Crowley.

A bittersweet ache pricked his heart as his eyes glimpsed over the hazy, pastel-soft picture of Azira and him at their graduation ball; reminiscence faintly replayed the song they – poorly – slow danced to for the first time in his head, the feeling of misplaced feet stepping on each other and Azira’s enamoured yet mortified giggling, dulcet like tiny bells.

It didn’t stay long as Azira started to talk again.

 

“I made a list of possible names.”

In gleeful anticipation, Crowley rubbed his hands like a fly.

“Alright, hit me!”

Azira cleared his throat.

 

“James?”

“That would have been just awfully posh, no. Let me take a guess now: Zeke?”

“Not quite. What about Jacob?”

Pff,” Crowley huffed negating, and Azira crossed another name out of his book.

“But is it any of the many variations of Jacob?”

“Shush, you gotta ask them all separately. Also, it’s my turn. So…Zachary?”

“I’m afraid that’s not it, but you’re on the right track with Hebrew origin. Well, what about Jael?”

“What now?”

“That means ‘mountain goat’.”

“Yeah right, ‘zira,” Crowley laughed tired and shook his head while running his cold fingers over his face, “my parents called me mountain goat. After giving birth, they just looked at me and they instantly thought of that.”

Azira joined his snickering.

 

Maybe it was inappropriate to laugh.

Morbid to enjoy yourself in times like these, grotesque to laugh without any knowledge of the wellbeing of your family.

But maybe Azira would allow himself to ignore this for a brief moment.

Just for his heart to flutter a little longer in awe of Crowley’s charming smile and his sharp facial features that, illuminated by candles, appeared cast into pure gold.

 

“Actually, though, that’s pretty close,” Crowley continued and snapped the notebook out of Azira’s hands. “Let me have a look, I wanna see if it’s actually on there.”

After a quick scan, Crowley found it and his lips were captivated by a soft smile that soon evolved into a smug grin after he made another, more enthralling discovery.

His fingers brushed the elegantly curved letters as if they were so fragile to burst under his touch.

 

“Mr Azira Z. Crowley, huh?”

Hot blood rushed into Azira’s cheeks and ears.

“I, err…well,” he stammered, but the sly curl in Crowley’s lips gave away that he wouldn’t just simply refrain from teasing his angel, “…I just thought it has quite a nice ring to it. More than a double name, or you actually taking mine.”

Azira didn’t know why he actually revealed this embarrassing thought process that implied he had not only considered taking Crowley’s last name but also marrying him like a smitten little hopeless romantic, but it surely caused the corners of Crowley’s mouth to jump in a far too complacent height.

 

“So, I’m taking you’re not a fan of ‘Mr Anthony J. Fell’?”

“Are you?” Azira inquired.

“No, you’re right about that. Plus, there’d be something tragically funny about that name, wouldn’t it?”

Glassy stiltedness resounded in Crowley’s quiet chuckle, causing the playful air of injured innocent on Azira’s face to soften.

It thoroughly shattered Azira to see how Crowley was still convinced using self-deprecating humour was an adequate, sufficient way to cope with scars, visible and hidden, and that it worked. Which it, en passant, obviously didn’t.

 

“Oh, dear-…”

“Enough of that,” Crowley interrupted the flash of pity and rather put on another, but earnest smile on while twirling Azira’s locks around his index finger, “for the near future, let’s just stick with ‘Azira Crowley’, ‘ very fond of the sound of it.”

Even though his kneecaps melted into mushy goo like butter in a direct display of the sun at the bewitching sight of Crowley’s affectionate look on his face, Azira couldn’t have stopped the destructive train of thoughts rushing through his mind if he would have thrown himself even onto the figurative rails.

 

There was no near future in which they would chase their dreams of a wedding, of white doves rising to the sky and cheesily feeding each other with cake.

There was no future at all.

None that didn’t include the haunting imagery of snapping arms streaming with blood or smashed heads, the macabre union of a thick pool of crimson and grey matter.

Azira couldn’t contain his utter, bottomless disappointment caused by the pain of glaring injustice.

How any higher power could allow them to reunite, to relish each other’s touch just one jaunty night before pulling away the rug under their feet in such an unrelenting, brutish manner seemed unbearably unfair.

Then again, who was he to demand perspicuity or special treatment in the great scheme of things?

 

And even assuming that all of this, all of today’s dreadful occurrences were just part of a temporary, exceptional state of emergency that would subside once they found a cure for this inexplicable collective hysteria, their relationship has never been born under a lucky star in general.

He’s been entirely serious about his promise to stand up against his family and their expectations regarding his lifestyle, but that didn’t make it any easier in execution.

 

“Angel, I can almost hear you thinking. It’s driving me insane, talk to me.”

Crowley’s sigh attracted Azira’s attention once again, and the blonde just lowered his head apologetically.

“I’m just reflecting on some things,” Azira said and lowered his back to lay down next to Crowley again, “about tomorrow, our plan of looking for them at the church.”

“I just think it makes the most sense for them to go there. It’s a solid base in an uncrowded area without many windows, and backrooms stuffed with useful stuff. Also, one might want to remain in a church in the prospect of Armageddon, I don’t know, not my department.”

 

Crowley tenderly nuzzled his angel’s lower back and drew himself nearer to him by doing so, huddling his forehead against the inviting crook of Azira’s neck. Shamelessly indulging in the alluring warmth, chalky smoothness of the skin kissing his own, Crowley almost forgot to continue talking.

For a while, it’s been some kind of joke between the two of them that Azira served as a human heater while Crowley constantly complained about cold numbing his fingers. The harmonic counterbalance of each left Crowley almost deliriously content.

 

“Either way, it would make a pretty sweet shelter for us,” he then mumbled into Azira’s neck. “We could stay there for a little while and ride out this whole shit show.”

 

Neither of them knew how to evaluate this situation and its severity, and Crowley wasn’t so naïve to actually think they’d be dealing with some minor inconvenience that would sort itself out from time to time.

No, his throat still hurt too much to think of it that way.

But he’d probably do best to foremost calm down Azira’s up-boiling anxiety before sinking beneath the weight of his own.

He kissed the deep lines of worry on Azira’s face.
The easing effect of it coaxed a complaisant hum out of him and he twined his arms around Crowley’s slender body.

 

“Rest a little, dear. I’ll keep watch.”

 

First, Crowley felt the obligatory need to protest, but then again there was Azira’s warmth, so, so persuasive, its soothing influence on his bruises and this exasperating ringing in his ears he suffered from since his strangulation.

His head and reason couldn’t keep up with the speed his eyelids shut closed.

“Only a few hours, then we’ll take turns…” he breathed incomprehensibly quiet and fell asleep, but not before sealing this promise with one last kiss.

Azira kept on holding him, surrounding him with the most wonderful heat, a bliss in which he almost couldn’t feel pain or dread, and protected him.

And Crowley expressed his thanks in a way of calm breaths, of unconditional trust; with temperature so different from Azira’s yet so refreshing. Protecting him, too, cooling down his inner demons.

Thereby saying I love you louder than any words ever could.

 

23.12.2012, Sunday. 35 hours after the end of the world.

 

A few hours had become the entire night, and if Crowley wouldn’t have been woken up by Azira’s sudden fit of coughing that vibrated onto the whole mattress, the latter probably wouldn’t have had the heart to disturb Crowley’s slumber at all.

Some well-intended scolding and debating later, Crowley finally had argued Azira into sleeping and he did – like a rock until late in the winter morning.

Watching over him sleep had an almost therapeutic effect, so Crowley thought.

It was beyond his grasp and sheer possibility of how Azira could appear any more angelic than he did anyway; how anything could outshine the gracious spark in his bright, intelligent eyes.

But Azira didn’t fail to continuously surprise Crowley. As a mellifluous smile adorned his sleeping face, carving faint wrinkles next to his mouth and eyes, Crowley wondered if he didn’t, indeed, die yesterday and ascend into Heaven after all.

Especially the last part was extremely unlikely, he then decided.

 

Cautiously, Crowley rolled from his side of the bed and tried to make as little sound as possible. He tiptoed through the room to the wardrobe and opened a drawer, his drawer, and praised himself for that he never had had the balls to actually collect his belongings after their temporary break-up.

(Well, it hadn’t really been his lack of balls but rather his strong faith in their relationship, he liked to think. Then again, Azira also must have been sentimental and trustful enough to not throw away his stuff. A nice thought.)

He dressed himself in his usual attire, got ready in the bathroom in which, thankfully, the water system still seemed to work regularly.

 

Overnight, his bruises had developed into a painful splash of various colours on the canvas that was his throat, and he felt like a living Jackson Pollock painting; blue, red, green, yellow sprawled out of his neckline, randomly pulsating their way through his nerves.

And his eyes, oh, he was happy to put on his glasses again after his own reflection in the bathroom mirror made his toes curl in shock. They looked like someone had tried to fish out contact lenses with a rusty pair of pliers.

Simultaneously with his last touches, the sounds of rustling bed sheets and smacking yawns resounded from Azira’s room, and Crowley rushed back into it to witness his love stretching his body with an expression so confused from lingering sleepiness, it was a delight to watch.

“I’d propose we’d raid your kitchen, take anything useful we can find and then get going,” Crowley said, observing Azira rubbing Mr Sandman’s nightly gifts out of his eyes.

Azira didn’t enter any objection to that plan and got up.

 

To their enormous luck, today’s departure should run much more smoothly and unproblematic than yesterday’s horror scenario: When Crowley started it, the engine immediately purred like a well-behaved kitten.
(He couldn’t help it but pat the gearstick in laudatory pride.)

There had been other maniacs snarling at them in a terrifying, wide-eyed scowl, but they had been standing in a distance to Azira and Crowley no living creature could close once the car dashed through the streets.

 

Azira’s knuckles went white as he desperately clung to the seat he was pressed into.

“We didn’t survive up to this point to be killed by your reckless driving!”

Crowley just laughed.

“Come on, the streets are empty.”

“Which doesn’t make it any more rational to speed through them with 90 mph!”

“Loosen up, will you? Say, how’s your foot?”

Azira huffed slightly disgruntled before answering.
“Better to say the least.”

 

Just when Crowley took another deep breath to continue his little, distracting tease, he would choke on it.

He slowed down.

Driving through Suburbia, they had encountered multiple of these beasts, gathered in small crouching groups. They always looked like they were in a restless search of something, someone. As if an inner, feral hunting instinct unyieldingly pricked the back of their heads with a bed of needles.

Usually, they would chase the car for a few steps in vain before tending to another source of sound they felt the need to investigate.

All of them did.

All but one as it seemed.

 

At first, Crowley thought the woman-shaped figure motionlessly staring at them from the pavement was another survivor, looking at them in paralysed shock.

The brief eye contact with those soulless pits flickering in her face proved otherwise.

It only lasted two seconds and still, it felt like hours, like an intimate exchange. As if he silently offered her to look right into his inner depths; an offer of his little finger she overstrained, swallowing his whole hand in one greedy gulp.

Then, there followed the first bang.

 

Without one single sign of pain or restraint, she smashed her own head into a shop window.

Again, and again.

Animated by another, but similar impulse as the others.

A spider web of cracks spread over the glass, imprinted by red, dripping marks.

Subconsciously, Crowley sped up again.

 

They didn’t catch sight of her last beat, nor of her collapsing to the ground, liquids flowing out of her open head and painting a gruesome scenery on the curb.

Probably for the better.

Crowley pushed the glasses further up on Azira’s nose after the shiver in his shoulders let them slide a few centimetres.

Redundant, as the shiver wouldn’t leave for what felt like an eternity.

 

“You know what?” he exclaimed loudly to give Azira a rough rip out of his thoughts when only a few minutes separated them from their arrival. “I haven’t been to your church, well, any church since… you know.”

“Since you balanced on the platform railings, slipped and fell five meters into the church pews?” Azira answered a little absent-minded, but his eyes opened wide as he realized what he had just said.

Of the many falls shaping Crowley’s life, the church incident must have been, sadly enough, one of the lesser afflictions, but Azira was quite sure that it still must be a touchy subject deep down.

Even if Crowley wouldn’t ever admit it when unthreatened. Or sober.

 

“Er, I mean-“

“Ha! I didn’t fall! To this day, I believe someone pushed me!”

Playing along, Azira furrowed his eyebrows.

“And who could that have been? There were only you, me and-“

“Exactly, Gabriel,” he announced, grinning sarcastically, “I bet he was royally pissed I got to play the archangel part.”

Before Azira had dragged along Crowley to partake in playing in the nativity play for Christmas, his older brother Gabriel had always automatically obtained the role of the archangel Gabriel.

Well, for obvious reasons.

It did, in fact, upset the prepubescent Gabriel back then, but pushing someone into a near-death experience seemed a little extreme of a reaction.

 

“Maybe he also wasn’t that amused about dinner when you questioned why we would be praying and thanking God for making the food grow. That, since your father told you animals’ excrement would do ‘most of the job’.”

“Ah yeah, I kinda had it coming.”

Azira rolled his eyes, although he couldn’t suppress a chuckle.

“He did not push you.”

“Okay, okay, no, he didn’t. But he did convince your dad to never let me play any angel role again. Not that I necessarily wanted to, but, you know, s’was nice.”

Crowley steered them into their street of destination.

 

“Anyway, since then I never stepped into a church again.”

“Maybe that’s exactly what happened to be the mistake? You never made peace with churches. Or God.”

“God,” he crowed in response and shook his head, “I kinda know God’s there, but we both respect each other from a deferential distance. More or less.”

Less in your case, I assume.”

The car came to a full stop in the church’s backyard.

“Damn right.”

 

They liked to believe they were theoretically capable of inconspicuously sneaking up to the church’s backdoor, quiet as mice and swift as criminal masterminds in the falling night, but exorbitant hubris was just as much of a sin as anything else.

God smote their plan with a rubbish bin they overlooked in their rush and both blindly ran into.

With clanking and clattering of spine-crawling volume, they knocked over the lid onto the ground.

A distant roar.

Drawing closer with every bewildered wink Azira and Crowley threw at one another.

So much for being inconspicuous.

 

“Right!” Crowley groaned and grabbed hold of Azira’s arm to pull them both – less quiet, but fast – to the entrance.

Making the mental note to not ever call his relationship with God mutually respectful again.

 

The sudden mass of commotion and palpable danger in the air made Azira slightly trip over the doorstep, but Crowley’s safe grip wouldn’t let him fall.

When he pulled out his ridiculously big and stuffed key ring, the indistinct sound of footsteps, sprints, became clearer and more traceable.

His capacity of fine motor skills and finding the right key under thousands, however, disappeared in the thick fog knitted by nervousness before his eyes.

 

Crowley couldn’t wait for him.

He started banging against the door, throwing his whole body weight against the door.

“Open up!”, he demanded, vigorously snapping the door handle up and down. “Open up, there must be someone! For Go- For somebody’s sake! OPEN UP, HELP!”

 

There were some different outcomes Crowley expected:

For a start, no reaction at all, and being at the mercy of Azira’s wicked wad of keys alone, which wasn’t his most preferred result.

Then again, there was the possibility someone did hear their calling in need and would get their bloody arse over here to fucking help them. Hot pick.

(His third and probably favourite prospect was for God to directly hit them with fatal lightning bolts, for which, unfortunately, the skies were too bright and clear.)

What he didn’t expect was the church door to open and to directly look into the barrel of a shotgun aiming for his head.

 

“Say something or I won’t hesitate to shoot.”

Of course, a moment like this would only elicit the most articulate, eloquent sound out of Crowley.

Ngk.

The weapon’s end hit his forehead and he could smell earthy fire between his eyes.

 

To his luck, Azira spoke up.
And he said something that Crowley, again, couldn’t have come up within a thousand years.

 

“Gabriel!”

 

Azira dragged away the gun barrel from Crowley’s head, shaking with the sheer multitude of emotions washing over him.

“Gabriel, put that away, now!”, he cried out and shoved the perplexed redhead behind him to shield him with his smaller body.

Behind sunglasses, Gabriel’s eyes widened in surprise when he recognized his own little brother, just to narrow into a glare, gleaming with suppressed anger.

“You little-!”

He cursed the rest of it under his breath as soon as he discovered their additional visitors limping into the backyard.

 

With one strong pull by their collars, Gabriel hauled them both into the back room and let them tumble right into a stack of beige cartons and other clutter while shutting the door.

They both grunted in startled confusion and the slight pain of their collision, and Crowley rubbed the aching back of his head.

This ache was quickly forgotten when Gabriel once more targeted his chest.

 

“Why did you bring him?” he snarled at Azira who immediately jumped to his feet to frantically tug on his brother’s much stronger arm.

Referring to Crowley as if he was an ulcerous flying rat.

Crowley did the first thing that came to his dazed mind: He aimed for Gabriel with his own gun.

That absolutely didn’t please Gabriel.

Nor Azira.

Demonstratively, Gabriel let the trigger snap between his fingers.
A threat Crowley answered with releasing the gun’s safety catch.

Azira’s heart almost jumped out of his throat with his next scream.

“Stop! Both of you!”

 

As both young men put down their weapons, Azira felt like streams of pure joy replaced his blood vessels.

Immediate relief wanted to chase him into Crowley’s arms, but the realization that it wasn’t actually his impact that enabled their armed truce withheld him in the last second.

Realization, or rather piercing blue eyes that drilled their disappointment directly into his soul, emerging out of the blue.

For Azira, the sight of his father only sparked happiness or ease on rare occasion inside of him. And even now, he would feel an ambiguous flinch.

 

“Gabriel, this is the house of God. Everybody’s welcome despite our…personal differences.”

Reverend Fell’s voice was dark and gravelly, but nothing compared to the scathing glance he gave Crowley, the embodied difference that made him punish Azira with ignoring him.

There was no beaming, no gladness over the discovery that his youngest survived hell on earth, and Crowley felt the urge to rip him into pieces for it.

One piece each for every tear Azira had shed yesterday over the potential loss of his family.

Over people who didn’t deserve to breathe the same air as his angel.

 

Someone called for the pastor, and he quickly addressed Gabriel to care for their two arrivals to walk back into the main hall.

 

Being taken care of by Gabriel was an intangible, loose concept with a big room for interpretation that neither Crowley nor Azira wanted to explore.

This would just be confirmed by Gabriel’s next aggressive remark once their father left the picture.

 

“It would be in your best interest to leave my brother alone with your sick tendencies.” The condescending smile on Gabriel’s lips made Azira’s body stiffen up. “Nowadays, it’s not that suspicious anymore if people go missing.”

“How could you say something like this?” utter shock spoke out of Azira, his mouth gaping with disbelief.

Now Gabriel turned to Azira.

 

Azira never thought he’d feel that way about Gabriel, but when his burning rage for Crowley dissolved into a reserved, emotionless and still sorely disappointed stare for Azira, he wished he’d just hit him physically instead.

 

“How dare you look and talk to me like this when you just disappeared and weren’t there when our mother died?”

 

Numb. His face felt numb.

 

“When the light came, she got up and went mad like everyone else,” Gabriel told him, the words steadily evolving into a hoarse hiss with every syllable. “She stabbed herself and bled to death.”

 

His face felt so, so numb, he didn’t even sense the first tears running down his cheeks.

 

“And where were you? Where the fuck were you when we held her, when we cleaned our mother’s blood from the kitchen floor? Spreading your fat legs for this drug dealing motherfucker like the little bitch you-“

“Shut up!” Crowley yelled at Gabriel, on the verge of smashing his fist into his dirty mouth.

 

“No, no, no…!”

Azira’s fragile whisper was the most heartbreaking sound this church has ever heard.

 

“No, that can’t be true, no, no…”

He covered his face behind his fingers, peering through them as thick, salty tears ran over his hand, his jaw and neck and left their burning traces all over his skin.

As soon as Crowley pulled him into a deep embrace and sheltered him with his arms from this cruel world and Gabriel’s scornful huff, the numbness went away and exchanged itself with dolorous pressure on his eyes.

 

“It’s alright, I got you,” he felt Crowley’s breath in his ears, “it’s alright, let it out, my angel, I got you.”

And he did.

 

Azira didn’t know for how long they stood in this dusty, dark room. For how long he wept into Crowley’s shoulder or when exactly Gabriel had left.

The world had stopped spinning once the first tear dropped and abruptly started again as Crowley groaned.

“I’m going to kill him,” he sighed deeply and cupped Azira’s face once he had calmed down. “I’m begging you, don’t listen to Gabriel’s nonsense. You’re absolutely not to blame, for nothing at all. You haven’t done anything wrong. You couldn’t possibly do something wrong, I believe.”

 

“He didn’t mean it,” Azira spoke softly, powerless, not sure whether he believed his own words or not, “he’s grieving. It makes people say atrocious things.”

Crowley shook his head.

“You’re too kind for your own good.”

“I’m not. I’m a terrible person, actually.” New tears glistened in his bleak eyes. “Gabriel’s grieving. And I should be. But all of this was rather my reaction to his words than my mother’s-…I’m…”

“Angel, it’s okay.”

“No!” he refused to acknowledge Crowley’s attempt at soothing him and wiped away his own tears. “My mother and I had an awful relationship, always, from birth. She never-…she never hugged me lovingly once in my life; I’ve never done anything to earn her love and pride, and I don’t know why.”

 

After giving birth to him, Azira’s mother had a devastating case of postnatal depression which couldn’t be anyone’s fault.

However, she had never fully recovered from that.

The party at fault for that had been found quickly enough.

While his father subliminally showed Azira how little respect he had left for him, silently picking his favourites, his mother had always openly blamed him for every inconvenience that crossed her path; for ruining her happiness, her body, her dream of a perfect, functional family.

 

“Still, she’s my mother. I have always hoped for everything to change, for us to bond someday.”

He pressed his lips into a narrow line.

“Now she’s gone, and what’s left for me is to forgive her.” He shifted his guilty gaze to the ground. “Oh, I do, I honestly do. But all of this feels wrong, I should feel like I lost something-“

“Stop it,” Crowley interrupted Azira’s self-destructive rant and let his fingers run over his cheeks, “there’s no instruction to how someone’s supposed to feel in a bloody situation like this. You’re saying you’re a terrible person, yet you’re the only person with the grandeur to forgive such unforgivable things. Really. My mother can shove my forgiveness up her-“

He stopped in mid-sentence and instead, he smiled affectionately into Azira’s softening face.

 

“Thank you, dear.”

“You’re most welcome, angel.” Crowley gave Azira one last, tender squeeze before taking a deep breath. “And now let’s leave this room and stir up something in the church. I bet your dad must be hiding some good communion wine somewhere.”

Crowley opened the door, holding it open for Azira.

Above it, a wooden cross was nailed against the wall.

 

For a second, Azira contemplated about saying a little prayer in his head.

When internally forming words, though, there was only blank silence resounding in an empty hall.

 

“Are you coming, Azira?”

Turning away from the cross, he coughed and nodded.

 

Crowley’s hand looked for his and as they found each, melting into one, Azira led them into the church interior.

Chapter Text

25.12.2004, Christmas Day. Eight years before the end of the world

 

The first thing Anthony noticed was the buzzing.

The entire world was buzzing.

Almost as if he was surrounded by a blue shimmer of thousands of fat, hungry blowflies that already feasted on his body despite still fighting for life.

Only when he opened his eyes and managed to match the buzzing with the many tubes connecting his weary body with diverse medical equipment, pain would come.

There was something cruelly mocking about how his suffering intensified just with his progressing realisation: As Anthony fully discovered his both legs to be broken and his throbbing head to be bandaged, the feeling of those scavenging insects covering him like a heavy blanket returned with a blinding, deafening force.

Anthony was lying in a hospital bed, facing the worst pain he’s ever experienced in his young life.

 

In a quick movement, he could have sworn had lasted half an agonizing eternity, he turned his head to the other side. There were greeting cards of blessing. Flowers too. And the last person on earth his crumbling composure would bear seeing.

His memories were riddled with holes like a man-shaped piece of carton that had the grave misfortune of falling victim to a fully-automatic weapon, and yet, he knew Azira would be the only person, the only friend, who wouldn’t condemn him for whatever it was he had gotten up to.

 

Languidly, his dry eyes blinked at the blond.

Azira was sitting on a slightly cushioned stool beside Anthony’s bed, nervously dangling his feet and looking into a book with a non-characteristic lack of concentration. In the unnatural neon light emerging from the strip lights above them, lemony sugar icing of biscuits beside him twinkled on his lips.

It didn’t take long for Azira to look up from his book – as he had probably done for the 10th time this minute alone – and check up on Anthony. And as soon as he locked eyes with narrow amber slits among this pale face, he gasped loudly.

 

“Oh God, Tony!”, it stridently slipped out of his mouth and he shut his book, hastily placed it on the stool and moved closer to the bed. “How are you? Are you alright?”

”Azira…”

”Do you remember what happened?”

Flashes of light appeared in front of Anthony’s inner eye; the blurry picture of a generously decorated Christmas tree. Shepherds. Angels.

The feeling of flying for the first time. The realisation of flying for the last.

”I…fell.”

Anthony gulped slowly, shivering with how dry his throat was.

 

“You were so incredibly lucky not to land on your head. Otherwise, you probably would have-…”, Azira quickly stopped and covered his hand with his mouth.

”Luck of the devil. I would have-”

”No, no, no, I don’t want to imagine what could have happened, not in the slightest! The nurse said it had been a mere Christmas miracle for you to- Oh! I should call for a nurse, shouldn’t I?”

The twelve-year-old next to him carried so much trembling excitement inside, Anthony struggled to follow his words and actions. Lights and movements became hazy erratic circles as trees and street lamps sometimes would when his father was driving him around in his Bentley late at night, fast as if chased by the devil himself.

 

When Azira returned with a nurse and she connected a plastic bag filled with some translucent, colourless liquid inside with Anthony’s arterial catheter, though, he felt the cramping tension controlling his muscles abide. The pain killers were quick and effective.

The flies buzzed off and were replaced by thick cotton coating his body in a soft yet heavy way.

He could have get used to that little earthly salvation forever.

This salvation might turn out to be a mere diving board into a boiling pool of sulphur, eventually.

Perhaps, Anthony even began to take his bouncy run-up; perhaps, he’d loved nothing better than to just close his eyes and fall asleep again if it wasn’t for Azira’s concerned face materialising itself through the cloud.

The nurse had already disappeared to contact his parents and a doctor.

 

”-…and she said the wound on your temple will probably leave a scar.”

”I’ll just put a tattoo over it”, Anthony mumbled a little apathetic and scanned the room with his new-found ability to focus. “Where are my parents?”

”Well, your father said he would be packing some clothes for you. And your mother mentioned some important meeting she had to attend to.”

”Huh. Probably bummed out I didn’t bite the dust, my mum must be.”

”How could you say something like that?!”, Azira asked appalled and protectively put his warm hands over his friend’s upper arm. In spite of tubes and drugs, of slowly recomposing memories and faintly buzzing flies, everything , the affectionate touch caused Anthony’s hair to stand on end.

”’s true, tough.”

I, for my part, am very relieved to see you didn’t bite the dust”, Azira replied with a huff, whereupon there was a soft sparkle in his eyes to be found. “One of the best Christmas presents you could have ever given me. Speaking of!”

Azira took the biscuit tin beside him to hand it to Anthony, looking a little guilty.

”I made them for you. I’m afraid I’ve been here for a little while now and might have eaten one or two…”

”Don’t worry.” Anthony smiled thankfully into the face of someone who definitely had more than ‘one or two’ biscuits. “How long have you been here already?”

”Oh, I don’t know.”

”But it’s Christmas.”

”I didn’t want you to spend your Christmas alone. Awake or not. No one should.”

”And your family was fine with that?”

”Let that be the very last of your worries. I’ll be fine.”

This mischievous flash of teeth in Azira’s usually angelically innocent face made Anthony’s heart race to a point he was scared it would trigger the heart rate monitor connected with him.

 

There were many things Anthony wanted to say; things so unimportant and things he would never say out loud.
Starting with an apology for this drama and his insufferable self, a sincere thanks for Azira being here, now and always before.
Lying furry on his tongue, there was this one thought haunting him night and day. Something that could destroy their entire friendship when confessed.
All the other problems that had made Anthony hate coming home after school for weeks. That had made dinner feel like the last meal shared with strangers every evening. This mystery behind his mother’s important meeting, it’s consequences.

There were so many things Anthony wanted to say and instead he pointed to the book next to Azira.

The plasticky sweet smell of a book fresh from the press lingered on him.

The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde.

”Christmas present?”

A little irritated by the change of subject, Azira opened his mouth, but then nodded eagerly.

”Oh yes! My uncle gave it to me. My father says my obsession with…indecent authors is becoming alarming and unhealthy. So Ezra secretly left it for me under my pillow.”

”Your uncle sounds awesome.”

”Oh, you could certainly meet him next year when he’s visiting for Christmas again! He always comes for the nativity play!”

Anthony’s heart dropped heavily down into his stomach.

 

”…Azira, look. I don’t think I’ll come to church again.”

”What? Dear, don’t worry, no one’s mad with you because of this whole…fall. My dad just said he wouldn’t allow you to play an angel anymore, but there are many other respectable roles!”

”No, I don’t mean the play”, Anthony sighed and evaded Aziras nervous look. “Generally speaking. I don’t feel welcome there.”

If the prior caring shine in Azira’s eyes could make Anthony’s heart race with head-spinning speed, so would the gloomy dim create such an empty, gaping hole in his chest, he immediately wanted to take everything back. It was the truth, though, and nothing but the truth.

Azira was desperately looking for the right words and gasped for air as he believed to have found the solution to this riddle.

”Is this about the things my father said in youth group? Oh, Tony, all of that just was a big misunderstanding!”

”Your parents don’t allow us to have sleepovers anymore.”

”Yes, as I said, my father just misunderstood it. He probably assumes you might be-“

”Azira, I think I like boys.”

”Oh.” Azira slowly blinked at him. “Oh.”

”Yeah. Oh.”

 

Both boys just looked at their own hands they tensely fumbled with.

Anthony wished for the flies to come back. The cloud devouring him in one cottony swallow. A sudden total brain death. Just something as long as he didn’t have to witness how his only friend would leave him.

Azira didn’t leave.

Actually, he didn’t move at all.

It drove Anthony insane. He wanted to jump up, rip all tubes out of his body and run away, escape into a foreign country, an unknown galaxy.

Before he could initiate said escape or begin to make up any excuses, conceal this confession as a stupid, careless joke, Azira looked up again. Anthony was scared of what he might see.

Disgust. Lack of understanding. Pity, maybe.

None of that were to be found in Azira’s expression.

To be completely honest, Anthony absolutely didn’t know how to read it. The only thing he was sure about was that falling for a few metres again just to land on rock-hard church pews even held nicer prospects than to lose Azira.

 

”Do you like me then?”

Abruptly, Anthony silently choked on his own spit. His dry tongue stuck to his incisor teeth.

”Wha-…No! No, of course not! Not in that way! That would be weird…right?”

Right?

”Then it doesn’t change anything between us, does it?”

Anthony’s heart skipped a beat.

Cautiously, he leaned forward, not trusting this situation.

”You’re okay with it?”

”Of course I am.”

”Aren’t you…weirded out? I thought it’d make me a ‘filthy little sinner’.”

”Those are my father’s words, not mine. Also…I don’t know…. I mean…I-…”, Azira mumbled, still playing with his fingers.

Anthony pricked up his ears.

 

Would this be it? Would this really be the moment Azira would confess he had similar thoughts and feelings? Would this really mean Anthony had the littlest yet most cordial hope of making his bubbly-pink day dreams come true?

 

”…I mean…Aren’t we all sinners in some way? It might be a sin, but who says it’s a worse sin than a casual white lie or eating shellfish?”

Azira did his best to look convinced of his own poor attempt of anxiety-driven, theological exegesis, but the brief twitch of his nose betrayed him as always.

Sighing, Anthony dropped back into his pillow.

This wasn’t quite what his heart longed to hear. Then again, he wasn’t in the position to be reaching for the stars.

Azira didn’t hate him.

And there probably was no realisation more relieving a simple human being could feel with their mortal narrowness.

”I’d understand and respect your wish of not attending church anymore…but I’d be happy to see you, you know? You’ll always be my best friend, come what may.”

Correction. That must be said feeling.

He couldn’t suppress one little, smug smile, and as Azira bashfully returned it, Anthony almost forgot where he was and how he got here.

For a short period, he forgot about his fears and, in his gust of joy, unfortunately about his senses, too.

 

”There’s another thing I have to tell you.”

It couldn’t possibly be worse than confessing he’s gay.

Only when said out loud, its meaning actually dawned on him.

 

“My parents are getting divorced.”

”Oh…I’m so sorry, Anthony.”

Immediately, he sensed a wispy layer of cold sweat wetting his nape.

”That means I’m moving.”

Irrepressible terror drove into Azira’s limbs and made him flinch as if he had been receiving a fatal diagnosis. His eyes simultaneously went wide with his fingers desperately clinging to Anthony’s blanket.

”…What?”

Azira’s reaction pushed panic to slowly sneak up on Anthony like a long-drawn-out shadow.

“I’m…I’ll be moving back to Scotland with my dad.”

As endearing as the fact that Azira was more horrified with the idea of Anthony being gone than being a ‘filthy little sinner’ was, it was cruel and bedded the blue sky of Azira’s eyes next to doleful red.

“What-…but when?”, Azira whispered bewildered.

“Just before school starts again. It’s been really spontaneous, I didn’t know until yesterday. It…had made me so furious and so, so stupid.” Furious and stupid enough to spit into the eye of any authority or reason, stupid enough to climb onto a railing and slip- “I’m so sorry, Azira.”

Azira just cleared his throat in an ineffectual attempt to maintain his crumbling composure- not to cry.

”But…”, he faltered, choking on tears. “We’ll still be friends, right?”

”Of course!!!” Regardless of the medical equipment stuck to him, Anthony impetuously sat up and clasped Aziras hand that was trembling on his bed. “We can visit each other during our holidays! And I’ll be coming over for some weekends, I’m sure!”

”…”

”We can finally test out that pen pal thing you’ve been dreaming about.”

Azira swiped his sleeve over his face and took a shaky breath.

”That’d be nice…”

 

Earlier on, time had felt like an old, chewy piece of gum, and now it flashed past them in the blink of a teary eye.

Anthony ached to spend hours upon hours with Azira, to hold his hand and whisper desperate crumbs of comfort; tell him something that made it seem like he had a clue about the big mysteries of life. Anthony was twelve. He knew shit. And for being twelve, it was too much and too little, enough, at once.

They didn’t get to spend hours. After five minutes, someone knocked at the door.

A familiar, red-haired head popped up.

Usually, Anthony loved seeing his father. He was the only relative he felt connected with, the only hero to look up to. The father to show him to glue coins onto the pavement, the teacher to cackle at him when he tried to pick them up again. The only adult trying to understand him, the only parent to accept him as the person he was.

However, at this moment it felt like his presence would disturb something intimate, something so precious that just belonged to them. It felt like he was stomping with steel-toed boots onto a subconsciously created, fragile bond of glass.

Shocked, Azira pulled his hand away. Anthony instantly missed the contact.

 

”Azira, your mom called. She wants you home as soon as possible.”

Azira nodded, caught off guard. His head was almost visibly smoking and fuming with those many thoughts spinning and twisting inside.

”Uh…yes, right. I’m…”

It was seldom for Anthony to witness his best friend in such a fight for words. The more it hurt now.

”May I come back tomorrow?”

Mr Crowley’s eyes softened within a mellow chuckle.

”Sure.”

 

Still lost in his own head, Azira went for his book and his winter coat he almost put on the wrong way around.

“Alright then, yes…no…I mean-“ Azira sighed a sigh so harrowingly deep. “Get well soon, Anthony.”

Although his father was standing in the room beside them, Anthony took one last hold of his friend and caught his hand, squeezing it tenderly in his own.

”Thanks.”

Anthony probably couldn’t even count all the things he was Azira thanking for, he wouldn’t ever be able to stop.

Azira nodded with misty eyes, and Anthony released him, finger for finger, painfully slowly.

 

”Merry Christmas, Mr Crowley.”

”Merry Christmas to you, too, Azira. Get home safe.”

 

Anthony neither noticed how Azira vanished behind the door, nor how his father carefully sat down onto the bed beside him. Only when his dad’s sad, throaty laugh reached his ears, he found himself in the here and now again. Against his will.

”Oh Tony…”

He shook his head overwhelmed before he wrapped his arms around his son and held him as only a father who had feared for his child’s life overnight could. Though, he wouldn’t be Anthony’s father if he wouldn’t try to gloss over his inner commotion with inappropriate humour.

“What did we say about gravity?”

Panic and relief, lingering pain and numbing pain killers, ravenous sorrow and affectionate warmth from within chased Anthony into a spiral of bewilderment all together, and he couldn’t help himself but quietly laugh into his father’s chest.

”There, there. It’s okay.”

Before he knew what was happening, the spot his laughter had hummed against had become a wet stain, and Anthony was sobbing so painfully hard it made his eyes pulsate in his skull; weeping so bitterly he swore to himself to never cry again in front of anyone.

”I’m there. I’m there for you, Anthony.”

 

24.12.2012, Christmas Eve. 3 days after the end of the world.

Crowley hated Christmas.