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High Art and an Artist Laid Low

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"Crowley?"

 

The demon's apartment was grave silent when Aziraphale opened the door.

 

It had been a wonderful lunch at the Ritz, and Crowley had just dropped him off at the bookshop when he stopped him and pressed a key into his palm. It would've been a key like every other if it weren't for the pitch-black color of the material, and an address written on a red paper tag tied to it. 'I want you to have it.' Zira remembered hesitating a bit when he was taking the key; he knew how much it meant to him to have the toothy piece of metal and he couldn't even imagine how much it must’ve meant to Crowley. However, after that unpleasant visit from Ligur and Hastur, it was better if he had it. He stared long at the key in his palm, his curious eyes inspecting every dent. He clutched it nervously yet surely in his fist, but when he tried to express his enormous gratitude, the demon cut him off with a 'Don't mention it.' before wishing him a nice rest of the day and speeding off in his black Bentley. Neither of them had mentioned it ever since.

 

But that was only one of the many things that had changed since the Armageddidn't. It took him a few weeks, but thanks to Heaven loosening its grip on Aziraphale, he stopped wearing any kind of ties and scarves. Since day one, he's always worn something either around his neck, or a shirt with a tied collar, depending on how closely Heaven was watching his every step. And Crowley also helped, of course, although sometimes it was a real pain in the neck trying to figure out how to make a compromise between his and Crowley's different fashion tastes. Eventually, Azi fell in love with long-sleeved v-neck T-shirts along with soft wooly cardigans.

 

The reason the angel was even in the flat was simple; it wasn't because he wanted to surprise his boyfriend, he wouldn't have even come here on his own if it wasn't for the fact that he hasn't heard from Crowley for a whole week. It was as if the earth had swallowed him and - considering the demonic ways of getting into and out of Hell - that wasn't a good sign, so the angel decided to go to the place he thought of first - Crowley's apartment. But something in his chest tightened when he noticed no signs of life at his friend's place, and his hopeful question was met with nothing but deafening silence. He could hear his heartbeat in his ears as anxiety started to gather around his lungs like thunderclouds, making him short of breath despite not needing oxygen. His white knuckles turned back to normal when his tight grip on the door handle relaxed with the angel's feeble attempt at calming himself down. 'He could be sleeping, it's alright, he's probably safe, let's go inside and check first.'

 

It wasn't unusual for Crowley to go missing for a few days. He'd sometimes disappear out of nowhere, and come around the bookshop a couple of days later, not telling Aziraphale a thing about where he was or what he had been doing. And Zira didn't ask him about it either. It was barely any of his business what his friend was doing in his free time, what mattered was that he always came back to him. But this time it was a whole week. Granted, a mere seven days was nothing compared to the century-long nap in the past. But back then they weren't as close as they were now, and even though it did bother him that he didn't see his "rival" for such a long time, Heaven was keeping an eye on him more or less. Plus, he didn't even know where he should start looking, so there really was nothing he could've done. But now he knew exactly where to start. 

 

He planted his steps carefully on the dark floor as if he was walking over a flower bed of daisies, making his way towards the first door in the hall. As lightly as he could, he knocked. His heart sank when he was met with nothing but silence yet again. A sharp arrow of panic struck his chest when he opened the door and found an empty, untouched bed. Crowley sure did like his sleep, and he liked to put effort into it being perfect. In the middle of the room stood what looked like a queen-sized bed with black silk sheets, and a small bare nightstand right next to it. When he thought about it, the whole apartment had a completely different atmosphere from his bookshop; it was poorly lit with cold electric lightbulbs and the air inside felt somewhat heavy, as if almost tragic. 'But… why were the lights on?' This question sent a bolt of hope through Aziraphale's spine as his baby blue eyes lit up, his whole body suddenly feeling light as an angel feather. 'That means he should be home!' He had to hold himself back not to sprint deeper into the flat like a shot deer. 

 

The hallway. Way too long for his liking. Lined with dim white lights on both sides like in a cliché horror movie, the high ceiling making the angel feel almost nugatory. In between the lights were hung paintings and drawings, possibly the drafts of famous works, each with a lamp above. Empty. 

 

The kitchen. Very modern and equipped with every kitchen tool and tableware one could imagine, and yet it seemed like it hasn't been used once since it got here. The black and white marble counters were all glistening in the long light panels above them. A table with two chairs and a neat plant on top stood in the center of the encirclement of the counters. Empty. 

 

The office. A massive marble desk dominated the room with an ego that could be sensed in the air. Behind it stood a very comfortable-looking chair covered in gold, worthy of kings - it was definitely in the right apartment - a smaller version of it also standing in the corner on the right. On the wall, above the desk and chair, hung a sketch of Mona Lisa, given to Crowley by Leonardo da Vinci himself. To the left of the picture was a large modern television fixed on the wall and a few feet behind, in a nook, a familiar statue stood. The sight of it made something warm bloom inside of Aziraphale’s chest, spreading in waves throughout his whole body and putting a smile on his worried face. Empty. 

 

The plant room. Opposite to the marble desk was probably the most inviting room in the whole apartment; pots with impressively perfect green flora covering every corner. There was a large window on the right, but it was covered with jalousie so only a bit of light was coming through. Crowley probably should've been the gardener, after all, considering how marvelous these leaves were. No matter how hard he tried to go through his memories, he didn’t remember ever seeing house plants growing this strongly and richly. Empty. 

 

Another hallway. Shorter than the last one but darker. No lights standing out of the gray, solid walls, no visible lamps above art pieces, no chandelier. Only a straight path with a door frame on each side, leading to the back of the flat, an odd statue placed there. Empty.

 

The lounge. Lit by many - smaller, yet somewhat varying in size - warm lights scattered all over the walls, seeming almost like stars in the pitch-black night skies. The dark shammy sofa was spread out in the center of the spacious room, a short glass coffee table with a single empty glass on top, and a fluffy, white carpet underneath -- which was quite the surprise. It stung the blond to realize it looked quite similar to a cloud with how extraordinarily clean and soft it looked.  A bitter smile crawled onto his face. Empty. 

 

The bathroom. Perfectly clean black floor tiles reflected the cold, piercing light coming from the ceiling, almost blinding Aziraphale on first sight. The walls were covered in tiles just as dark and smooth as the floor, perfect white lines cutting through the solidity of the ceramics with such precision it reminded him of his training with the flaming sword, leaving a bitter taste on his tongue. The toilet, shower, and sink were all of black and white, fitting in perfectly with the dark walls and floor. Empty. 

 

As he walked past the statue, he couldn’t help but stop in his steps. He shot the two winged beings a thoughtful, almost judgemental look as he tried to make out what the activity they were caught in was. When he snapped back into reality, he hurriedly continued making his way to the last door at the end of the hall, on the left. In front of him towered the only door that he had yet to enter and, unlike the rest, this one was closed. Aziraphale's heart was beating in his throat from him excitedly waltzing over through the entire flat, a pinch of fear bubbling in his chest. His hand was shaking as he was reaching for the door handle but his grip was firm. He never knew opening a door could be so difficult, but with one painfully slow motion, the door handle descended and the angel pushed the door open. The sight that laid out before him, he would've never expected. 

 

It was a blank white room, no furniture, no windows, no sound except a quiet whir of an electronic device which Aziraphale, despite his minimum knowledge of modern technologies, assumed was a running computer in the left corner next to the door. The whole snow-white room was lit by several light panels which emitted light so cold it almost gave Azi frost bites and shot a sharp reminiscent of Heaven’s halls through his mind. And in the dead center of the room sat a figure. They sat in a very crestfallen manner, with their hands holding the ankles of their crossed legs, shoulders hung loosely and back bent in a hunch. It was a painful sight on its own, and it hurt all the more when the angel realized it was no one else than his dear friend who’d been missing for a week. What he’d never seen, however, was the device Crowley was wearing along with big, sturdy headphones. He took a careful step into the room to see if the other man would notice, but when he didn’t even flinch, Azi made his way around him to take a better look. Upon closer inspection, he deduced the “goggles” firmly secured on the redhead’s eyes were some kind of advanced technology used for viewing in 3D and it immediately reminded him of the time Adam was telling him about this new thing called “VR” where a person can look around in a completely virtual world. He glanced towards the computer in the corner, realizing it was connected to a monitor, too. What he saw was even more grievous than the curled up man on the floor; on the screen was what he assumed was a videogame, but when he walked over, his heart sank. It was only a projection of the current universe; Crowley had been sitting there for a week, watching space bodies go by. Stars, planets, nebulas. Zira’s eyebrows furrowed and lips crooked as he tried to hold back tears, softly walking back over in front of the demon and sitting down with his legs folded under him. He watched his boyfriend for a while, noticing the ever so small twitches of the corners of his mouth, the blood rising up to his cheeks, even the unsteady breaths he started taking. It was more than obvious Crowley knew he was in the room and it didn’t take long before he lifted his shaking hands up to the equipment on his head. The angel reached over to help him take both things off and set them carefully on the floor next to them. 

 

Crowley didn’t look at him. His face was red and eyes swollen with days-old tears, a fresh wave rolling down his cheeks as he stared at the white floor between the two of them. Aziraphale carefully reached out his hand towards his messy face and slightly jerked back when the serpent flinched away. Seeing his dearest friend in such a state gave the angel a terrible heartache, because he knew he could never understand how it must feel to lose everything in the blink of an eye. He knew he couldn’t return to him what had been lost six thousand years ago. All he could do was be there for him. The whole room filled with tension that gathered around the two like graveyard mist, making Aziraphale’s next attempt of touching Crowley’s face painfully hesitant, but the feeling of the other’s hot, wet skin on his palm made all of his worries melt away like lemon drops. He could feel both of them relax just a tiny bit since the snake’s eyes were still glued to the blank ground. It was frustrating not to know what was going through the poor thing’s head, it was eating him from the inside like a starving beast. 

 

Finally, after what felt like ages, the golden orbs looked up into his eyes, their black slits dilating immediately when they noticed the sparkling pearls on the other’s face. But Aziraphale just smiled. 

 

“Oh, Crowley,” he almost whispered in the softest voice he could manage, his throat tightened with sorrow and leaned in to plant a gentle kiss on the demon’s forehead. “I’m sorry…”

 

The serpent threw himself limp around Aziraphale’s neck, his body weighing barely anything to the principality. “Don’t be.” His voice was raspy and quiet, probably because he hadn’t used it in a whole week. “I should be the one to apologize for… y’know… disappearing for a bit.”

 

“It’s alright. Do you want to talk about it?” Zira wrapped his arms around him, squeezing him gently but firmly in a hug. When Crowley weakly shook his head, he let out an understanding exhale. “Okay. Does a nap sound good?”

 

“Heavenly.”