“I want to see it.”
The statement broke the small cocoon of comfortable silence that had ensconced the two since they departed Tadfield. Crowley looked up from where their fingers sat intertwined between the seats of the bus. Aziraphale was staring straight ahead, but his grip was firm. He was grasping Crowley like a lifeline. Crowley understood, feeling adrift in the sea of a now uncertain eternity himself.
He squeezed the angel’s hand harder.
“I want to see the shop,” Aziraphale clarified.
Crowley’s mouth twisted into a pained frown as he watched Aziraphale’s blank expression become intermittently illuminated by the streetlamps passing beyond the windows. Bright then dark. Gold then black. They flickered like candle-fire beside each other in the light.
“I’ll be with you the whole time,” Crowley murmured, thumb stroking the back of Aziraphale’s hand, marvelling at the softness of the angel’s skin. Something felt stuck in his throat, thinking of how fortunate he was to be able to hold Aziraphale like this, but how awful it was to see him in pain.
Aziraphale looked at him then. A small smile turned up the very corner of his lips.
“I know,” the angel said. “I know you will, dear boy”
The fire was, thankfully, completely extinguished when they arrived. No emergency services, no trucks, just an eerily quiet and dark street in Soho. The cloying smell of burnt paper was thick in the still air of the night
They stood together on the sidewalk for several long moments. Aziraphale, wringing his hands, taking in the charred facade of his beloved shop. It was so much more than just a building, Crowley knew. It was an extension of Aziraphale. A physical manifestation of all the little joys that Aziraphale found on earth. It was his first edition Oscar Wilde manuscripts that he would read while chuckling and curling his toes at the acerbic wit of his long passed friend. His whimsical misprints of Bibles that completely bastardized the Beatitudes. His books with smooth covers that he simply took joy in touching because they were pleasing to the human form he was so blessed with. Lifetimes upon lifetimes of simple joys were collected and catalogued in that shop.
And now it was ash.
“I want to go in.”
Crowley couldn’t bring himself to look at Aziraphale, afraid of the agony he would find in his face. Instead, he simply nodded. He walked up first, tearing the caution tape off the threshold and shoving the door open with his boot.
The shop was nothing but an empty, blackened cavern with slats of moonlight peeking in through the exposed roof. Piles of things which once were shelves and books were now indistinguishable mounds of charcoal. Crowley couldn’t help himself but go to the now toppled gramophone, the metal horn still intact, but its wooden body was disfigured, covered in melted vinyl. He touched it, reverently, remembering when he bought it for Aziraphale, back when it was new. He brushed away some of the ash, but only succeeded in dirtying his fingers.
There was a sharp inhalation of breath behind Crowley. Not quite a gasp. A sort of pained wheeze.
Crowley stood and spun around.
Aziraphale stood in the center of the shop. His face was utterly pained. His wide blue eyes swept around the room, agony pinching the corners. It was an expression beyond tears, beyond sadness.
It was resignation.
“I…” he choked a little, bringing one hand to his chest, the other to his face. He couldn’t finish his thought.
The angel sniffed and wiped a hand over his face while shaking his head. “I ought to be grateful that it was just my shop, and not the entire world.” He gave a watery little smile before diverting his eyes back to his feet.
Then: “I suppose I deserve it,” Aziraphale whispered. “What with the apocalypse and defying Heaven and… all of it.”
Something shifted in Crowley.
The complete injustice of it. The wretched fury of watching his most beloved angel have his very existence stripped from him. Stripped from him because all he wanted, more than any blessed thing in the universe, was to protect the precious creatures that the Almighty had put him in place to oversee in the first place!
His fists clenched. He tried to take a deep breath.
All he could see was the fire. The fire in an empty shop, bereft of his angel. His best friend - dead. The world ending with nothing to live for. Fire. Hell. Alone.
The smell of smoke surrounded him. He couldn’t calm himself. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t- He-
“Don’t you say that!” Crowley cried.
Aziraphale stepped back, wide eyed. “W-What?”
“Don’t you dare think that!” the demon shouted, staggering toward Aziraphale. His feet kicked up little clouds of soot in his wake, covering his clothes. “Don’t you dare think that any of this was - was- divine fucking providence!”
The angel sighed and scrubbed his hands over his face, clearly exhausted. “Crowley, I deserve whatever penance I’ve earned-”
“No you fucking don’t!” Crowley continued to shout, feeling himself losing what little self-control he had left. “You’re the best of all of them, you idiot! Of all of those angels!”
Crowley could feel hot tears beginning to stream down his face. He swiped at them angrily with his soot covered hands, smearing the black across his face and throwing his sunglasses to the floor. He was barefaced, stricken with emotion. But he couldn’t stop. He staggered right into Aziraphale’s space, inches from him, hands just inches away from his arms.
“You deserve the world, Aziraphale! You deserve your shop and your books and your blessed stupid pastries! Damn Heaven and damn hell-” he spun around, arms wide, chest bared to the room around him “- do you hear me, all of you?! Fuck all the angels and demons and God and Satan- Anyone who would ever think that you deserve to be hurt! Fuck that bastard Gabriel!” He turned back, desperate for Aziraphale to understand. “You are so good, angel, you are so good, and I- I- I couldn’t find you!”
Crowley was sobbing now, quite beyond his own control. He felt as though something tight in his chest had snapped after being trapped there for six thousand years. Reaching out, he buried his fists into the pale cloth of Aziraphale’s coat, leaving dark smudges. “You were dead, Aziraphale, and I- I- I couldn’t be without you! Not now, not ever, because you mean more to me than any bloody ineffable plan!”
A little shaft of moonlight slipped over Aziraphale’s face and Crowley could suddenly see the angel’s own eyes, full of tears. But instead of the anguish that had been there before, there was only the sweetest, most serene little smile.
“Oh, Crowley,” the angel whispered, bringing his hands up to wipe the sooty tears from Crowley’s face. His fingers smoothed down the deep lines of worry on his forehead, traced over an eyebrow, rested a palm over his serpent tattoo. “Crowley, my dear, my love.”
Crowley’s eyes slipped shut as he shuddered out a sigh. Aziraphale’s fingers were cool and so very, very real. He was here. With him. Even in the husk of the shop, he was very much alive.
“I’m so very sorry to have spoken and, and to have acted so carelessly,” Aziraphale whispered, leaning his forehead against the demon’s. “I won’t leave you again. Oh, love.”
They breathed together.
Crowley knew, without a doubt in his wretched soul, that he would rend Heaven and Hell to pieces before he let them hurt his angel.
Abruptly, Crowley jerked his eyes back open. “Oh, bless it,” he cursed, sheepishly, “I got ash on your coat, angel, I-”
Aziraphale gasped out a disbelieving laugh. “Sod the bloody coat, my dear,” he chuckled, tears dripping from his chin, before pulling Crowley down into a hard kiss.
Soft lips slid against each other. The overpowering scent of smoke faded into the scent of Aziraphale’s indulgent bergamot cologne, the slight aroma of wine they shared at the bus stop, of something indescribably angelic. Crowley sighed after seemingly holding his breath from the first day they met in Eden.
After an eternity of existence, of being cast out of heaven and living in the periphery of human history, the press of Aziraphale’s lips against his and the curve of his cheek pressed into his palm made Crowley understand, finally, what it felt like to come home.
When, after a moment so fleeting in the face of their existence, they broke apart, Crowley buried his face into Aziraphales shoulder, careless of the soot that now stained the coat.
“Stay with me. Please. Stay, stay, stay. We can figure out how to- how to deal with them. Please, angel, please-”
Aziraphale nudged his lips against Crowley’s again, whispering, “Of course, my love, of course I’ll stay. Always, always, always.” He pressed them as close together as he could manage.
And all that the moon illuminated in that barren, smokey shop, was two ethereal beings, wrapped in the hanging promise of a tomorrow.