They could have expected that, Crowley thinks afterwards, after things have settled down again and they are once again left, largely, to their own devices. Their little switcheroo couldn’t have kept Heaven and Hell away forever, although Hell is much less of a threat to be worried about these days. Heaven, though, Heaven is persistent, and endlessly bureaucratic, and even though things take their time, they always get addressed eventually.
It had been a while since the almost-Apocalypse, months maybe, or years, or a little fewer of both than expected, but what difference did it make, really, when you were millennia old. It definitely had been long enough for Crowley and Aziraphale to settle back into a comfortable routine, to relax, to enjoy each other’s company above anything else. And so it came as a surprise, to have this calm broken one crisp and clear night, without warning. But then, Heaven had never been considerate.
The two of them had just settled down comfortably, with a bottle of wine and some lazy conversation, in their accustomed spot in the bookshop’s backroom, when the divine presence of an intruder made itself known. A moment later, barely enough for both of them to tense up, the archangel Gabriel appeared in the doorway.
Crowley was up and across the room with a though, driven by the desire to protect Aziraphale, as if Gabriel had brought more hellfire, as if he had come back to finish the job, but he could not reach him before Aziraphale’s hand on his arm held him back. His angel was tense, alert, with the hard stare and rigid posture of battles long past that Crowley only seldom saw these days, and he was glad for it, because it deeply scared him. Aziraphale took half a step forward in an attempt to shield Crowley from Gabriel’s view, but did not let go of his arm.
"Now, now, no need for all of that, Aziraphale," Gabriel droned lazily, as if unaffected by Aziraphale’s display, but he could not quite control his face into impassion. "I’m not here to make trouble."
"Somehow I find that hard to believe," Crowley started, but Aziraphale squeezed his arm once to stop him. Somehow, Aziraphale drew himself up even more.
"What do you want, Gabriel."
There was a short silence filled with the almost impossible realisation that Gabriel needed to gather his words.
"I didn’t mean to disturb, and I promise that I will leave you be. I am here in a, well… my official capacity has changed somewhat, and I am required to make this visit." He broke off, eyes flicking to the side for a second before returning to Aziraphale. "Look, I know that I am surely not who you would want Heaven to send to you for this conversation, after your trial—"
"After the execution, you mean," Crowley couldn’t help but cut in. Aziraphale’s face betrayed nothing of his thoughts, not even to Crowley.
"…yes. After the… yes. I would apologise for that, but I know you would not welcome it."
Aziraphale paused for a moment before his features softened almost imperceptibly. "I would not. But the simple fact that you realise that shows that despite all evidence to the contrary you are apparently capable of growth."
"Yeah, I deserved that," Gabriel muttered, seeming to deflate a little. "You never used to snark at me that much."
"I am no longer in association with Heaven, I will snark at you as much as I wish."
Crowley was impressed by and very proud of his angel in that moment.
"So tell me," Aziraphale continued, coolly, "why are you here bothering us?"
Gabriel’s eyes flickered to Crowley, already expecting him to say something, and Crowley gave him a cool look over his glasses and remarked, "you know, after the whole debacle with that lad, oh, I think they call him Jesus around here these days, I would not say that you are the right angel to send as a messenger to literally anyone."
Crowley could tell that Aziraphale was desperately holding back his amusement.
"I have been ordered to check on you," Gabriel said, evidently deciding to ignore Crowley and addressing only Aziraphale. His expression was one of deep discomfort. "Upstairs is in disarray, the paperwork after this little apocalypse stunt is unbelievable, not to mention that some angles had been slacking the past few years since they never expected that they’d have to deal with Earth for much longer, it truly is quite the disaster up there. There’s been rumours that the Almighty Herself is trying to get involved because nobody knows what to do with this situation. We could really use your specific human skillsets for some of the archiving, if I’m honest, but I know you won’t help us with that—"
"—so I won’t ask. But since nothing seems to work the way it used to since the beginning and my department is really only trying to put out fires since we no longer have to act as oversight for you… ah, well. I have been informed in no uncertain terms that I am not exactly innocent myself."
That was a revelation. No uncertain terms usually meant one of the very few occasions when the Lord deigned to speak to an Angel directly instead of just relaying Her orders in the vague and all-encompassing way of sudden knowledge, or the less vague but more annoying way of having Metatron show up dramatically with information. Gabriel looked shifty. Crowley’s entire corporation felt as if frozen in place.
"Innocent of what, exactly," asked Aziraphale. It took some time for Gabriel to find his voice again.
There was silence. Aziraphale and Crowley exchanged short looks. Gabriel looked like he would rather be in Hell than in the bookshop.
"You mean,“ Crowley couldn’t help himself, „treason against Heaven."
"Oh yes," said Aziraphale, with a tone of sudden understanding. "Yes, I’m afraid so. You were the one who came to Earth to talk to Adam. You were the one who had to relay what had happened and call back all of the Heavenly Angels."
"Yes," Gabriel admitted, looking like it physically pained him. "Turns out that leaving the Apocalypse to the Antichrist is not exactly something you’re supposed to do."
"They gave you a talking to," Crowley said, and while his shock wore off he could feel excitement come to life. "In fact, the Almighty did it Herself! Oh, this is deeply dramatic. Were you properly scared?" Gabriel huffed at this, but his expression betrayed him. "And now you’re the one who has to come talk to Aziraphale! Oh I have to say, this is quite the punishment."
"That is true, he could never stand me."
"You were always such a bad angel that I am not even surprised to see you exhibit delight at that fact, Aziraphale." In the days before the Apocalypse-that-wasn’t, Gabriel would start getting angry at this point. But now he just looked defeated. "So here I am, instructed to inform you that Heaven is going through some restructuring, that I am not entirely innocent of blame, and that I was not explicitly authorised to consort with hell and try to burn you out of existence. And before you ask, no, none of this means that you have to come back to work. The Almighty seems to think that you should stay where you are, although Her reasoning is beyond me."
"Well, she is much cleverer than you are," drawled Crowley with a grin.
"If you would refrain from insulting me, this entire ordeal is already embarrassing enough," huffed Gabriel.
"So, that is all, Heaven is somewhat evolving and you are tasked with informing me about it?" Aziraphale sounded almost pleased, but the tension had not quite left him completely.
"That is all," said Gabriel, defeated. "And I do actually also have other duties."
"Oh yes, quite right. I would do the polite thing and offer you some tea, but I do not actually want you to stay long enough to drink it."
"Fair enough," Gabriel said, and almost seemed wryly amused now, if still cautious. During the entire conversation, Aziraphale had never quite let go of his quiet display of power, a reminder that he still, technically, outranked Gabriel. "I will leave the two of you be, then. But… despite my best judgement, and oh do I not like all the changes that are starting to happen now, I guess I could… well, let me just say that I… I wish you the best." Gabriel looked pained, having admitted to that, but he continued. "You seem to have made quite the lives for yourselves down here, and despite myself I hope that you enjoy Earth. And believe me, this makes me just as uncomfortable as you."
Crowley had no idea what to say to that, but Aziraphale gave a tiny nod.
"Take care, Aziraphale," Gabriel said, moving towards the front door, to leave the bookshop the human way, never quite turning his back towards them.
"I will," Aziraphale said, quietly, holding Gabriel’s gaze. Crowley got the feeling that something which was almost, but not quite yet, understanding, passed between them. It felt like more than they had ever agreed on before.
Gabriel’s eyes flickered to Crowley, hand already on the door. "You too, Raphael," he said, and it felt like an accusation, a slight towards Crowley, and he desperately wanted there to be malice in Gabriel’s face, but instead he seemed far away, as if remembering. Before Crowley could say anything, Gabriel slipped out of the bookshop and into the night.
Aziraphale stood frozen next to him.
For a moment, Crowley desperately wished that he could just disappear, just leave without another word, to avoid having to confront what would follow. But he had decided after everything almost came to an end that those times were over. He refused to run. And so he waited for Aziraphale to speak.
"You’re Raphael," it came, finally, after a time that must have seemed a lot longer than it was.
"I used to be," Crowley said, defensive.
"How did I never know?"
"Because I never told you, angel. It isn’t important. Honestly I’m kind of mad at him right now for dropping that old name just like that."
Aziraphale finally turned to look at Crowley, then promptly steered the two of them back to their places on the sofa.
"Well, that was a weird visit," he tried, obviously aiming to distract himself as much as Crowley, but curiosity almost instantly got the better of him. "You used to know Gabriel and the others. You used to be an archangel."
Crowley grimaced. "And you used to be a Cherub, before you decided to try this kindness towards humans shtick and got demoted big time. Don’t see me reminding you of it."
"Sorry," Aziraphale said, absently. "It’s just that I didn’t realise… you must have been friends, you and Gabriel. I heard that the two of you spent quite some time together, right after creation."
"Well," Crowley drawled, relaxing a bit. "We were outside of Heaven a lot. Busy, you know. Assigned to the firmament. Argued a lot about where to put star clusters."
"Oh right, the firmament," Aziraphale laughed, "I’d always wondered why the humans would give it such an unfitting name, until I realised that they really perceived it to be one, instead of a very large stretch of space filled with creations."
"Hah, oh yes, we put so much effort into making all of these stars and nebulas and then it turns out that humans can’t even see most of them from down here. Even fewer now, since they started on all of these light sources during the night."
"A shame, really, I always thought that stars had been a particularly nice idea." Aziraphale seemed thoughtful, picking up his wine glass but not drinking from it.
"I used to be proud of them, you know," Crowley said, waiting for Aziraphale to interrupt, to ask a question, but nothing came. Aziraphale glanced at him, distractedly, but Crowley knew he was listening.
"I’d thought myself quite clever, back then," he continued. "Particularly the mechanics behind it all. Oh, I was proud of that. Technically stars are always falling, you see. Their gravity is pulling them inwards, towards themselves, endlessly. It was my idea. I thought it was quite nifty. Never thought back then that I would experience Falling with them."
"You Fall alongside that which you have created."
Aziraphale’s voice was quiet, his face sad when he looked at Crowley. He reached out a hand to put it on top of Crowley’s, his thumb rubbing slightly back and forth.
"I did, yeah," Crowley said, voice breaking. They sat there, beside each other, in silent support, not speaking for many long minutes.
Finally, Crowley took a breath and turned his face away, swallowing with effort. "Anyways, it doesn’t matter. That person, the one who made the stars, I mean, that person doesn’t exist anymore. It could have been anyone, really, it’s just stars, and I didn’t to it all alone, you know, it was all under Her oversight, and there were other angels—"
"Crowley," Aziraphale said, cutting off his babbling. It took effort for Crowley to turn his head and look into Aziraphale’s eyes.
"It does matter," Aziraphale said, forging on before Crowley could interject something, "it matters that you were part of Creation, as Gabriel was, as I was, as the morning star was. We each had our part to play. I am so, so deeply sorry about all of the pain you have experienced to get to this moment, but I cannot describe how grateful I am to know you, and to have you with me, right now. Who you used to be, who you are now, it led you to me. I will forever hold on to that."
Crowley didn’t know what to answer to that declaration, couldn’t formulate words in any language he had learned, but Aziraphale didn’t seem to expect him to. He squeezed his hand, tightly, teary-eyed, and said, "let’s go up to the roof."
There shouldn’t have been any convenient access from Aziraphale’s bookshop to the surrounding roofs, but as the two of them made their way upwards, there was. They climbed out onto the top of the building, where a bundle of blankets was conveniently waiting for them, and stretched out next to each other, lying side by side, sharing a blanket and sharing warmth, hands holding onto the other’s tightly. Crowley didn’t know how long they stayed like that, basking in each other’s company, but he felt like it could just never end and he would be happy with that.
"I recognise that one," Aziraphale said after a while, looking towards the sky, where more stars were visible than usual for London. Somehow, none of the humans seemed to mind that most of the city’s light sources had decided to take a break that night.
"Which one," Crowley asked, softly.
"Sirius, I think is the name," Aziraphale answered. "I don’t know many of them. But I enjoy looking at them. Finding out that you had a hand in this beauty only makes the stars that much dearer to me."
Crowley would have scoffed at that, but the sound wouldn’t form. "They aren’t beautiful, angel," he said instead, "they’re burning up, all the time. They are their own destruction."
"Sounds familiar," Aziraphale said, turning his head towards Crowley, a slight smile playing on his face. Your eyes would make better stars than anything I have ever come up with, Crowley thought, but couldn’t voice. He did not look away.
"That’s why you wanted to run away to the stars, back then, was it?" Crowley needed a moment to connect Aziraphale’s question to the apocalypse that had been averted. He willed himself not to blush.
"Yes," he admitted. "I remembered… I remember creating Alpha Centauri. I liked it, back at the beginning, it was," he broke off, swallowing, "it was an accomplishment. Something I had created. One of the first I did, actually, and I always liked how the entire system seemed to be just one star, from here. I wanted to show you. I thought it was all ending anyways, and maybe… maybe I could stand for you to know."
Aziraphale’s face was open, soft, and Crowley could look at it forever.
"I would like to see," Aziraphale said, smiling. "You know, I don’t really believe you when you say that the stars aren’t beautiful. I think you might be biased."
Crowley laughed softly at Aziraphale’s light tone, feeling a little normalcy returning to their conversation. This was familiar, their slight bickering, millennia past being serious.
"I guess," Crowley said, "maybe I can concede that they are beautiful up close. You know, without such pesky details as distance and atmosphere interrupting the viewing experience."
"Truly unfortunate, that our view is obstructed in this way," Aziraphale agreed.
They were still looking at each other, grinning, happy to be in each other’s company. Crowley felt light, somehow, lighter than he had ever felt before when he had thought of his life before he Fell. He made an impulse decision, and got up, letting the blankets fall away, not letting go of Aziraphale’s hand.
"Come on, angel," he said, pulling Aziraphale up with im. With the other hand, he pointed towards the stars, and nobody but Aziraphale would have been able to pinpoint which of them he meant. "Alpha Centauri."
Crowley looked back at Aziraphale, seeing happiness in his angel’s face.
"Let me show you."