Sometimes a simple thought can lead to a downward spiral of panic and fear. Just the simple notion that everything you devoted your life to, your whole being to, is no longer there can set you off. Aziraphale was in the middle of reorganizing his bookshop when it hits him.
Simply thinking, “I’ll need stronger books to hide Crowley from Heaven if he’ll be coming around more,” struck him right to his core. And he realized. There was no Heaven to worry about anymore.
He dropped the book he was holding as his breathing picked up, sharp, fast, harsh in his lungs. Numbly, he crashed to the floor. Aziraphale didn’t feel it, his thoughts were miles away, as if he was no longer there, in the present. He existed only within his thoughts. Thrust into his mind to drown in his worries.
He was free, Heaven was no longer breathing down his neck. Finally, he could be himself, unapologetically, without worrying about retribution. Dinners with Crowley seemed much more realistic now. Yet, he wasn’t reacting positively. He should be, so why was he so scared? Why couldn’t he breathe?
What was he supposed to live for now? What was he supposed to represent? His life no longer had a purpose. He no longer had purpose. He didn’t want to go back to serving Heaven and all their lies but. What else was he to do? It’s all he’d ever known.
His vision started to go dark, his lungs constricting, tightening. As if God’s very hand was clamped around his chest, clenching and squeezing and hurting. He felt like he was going to discorporate. He was suffocating, he couldn’t feel, couldn’t breathe, needed to breathe, couldn’t-
Heaven had conditioned Aziraphale, forced him to think a certain way and now he was free. But it left a hole, left a gaping pit of emptiness in its wake. What was the point? Why couldn’t he just stop thinking stop feeling why couldn’t he breathe, why couldn’t he move, why couldn’t he feel? A tug that he vaguely recognized as a hand on his coat attempted to drag him back up from the hole of thoughts he had fallen in, but it was futile.
His breathing was rapid now, exhales almost like sobs and tears were streaming down his face. Just when he thought it would hit its peak, when surely this was where it all came crashing down and he plummeted, sure to hit the cold, hard, unforgiving earth below him, he felt the hand grip his shoulder before quickly drawing back. His focus shifted, honing in on it like a lifeline, his attention divided between his thoughts and the brief touch.
But it should be a good thing, he didn’t need to worry about Heaven anymore. He was free to spend as much time with Crowley as he wanted! Free to do and think and feel and experience the world he had saved with Crowley. He needn’t worry about what they thought. There was no goodness left in Heaven. Perhaps there never really was. He suffered years of repression because of him and now he was here, left on his own. With Crowley, yes, but what was his purpose? An angel, even one as unique as himself, did not do well with no goal, no purpose, living a listless and directionless existence. What was the point if he had nothing to follow now? Heaven wasn’t in the picture anymore, he didn’t have to follow them, didn’t have to follow their lies, their hypocrisy. He was free, but why didn’t he feel happy about it?
There was only one person who could’ve gotten in with the door locked, he remembered vaguely.
Why was he so panicked?
“Angel?” a voice murmured softly.
He needed to move past this.
“Can I touch you?”
He needed to calm down, he needed to stop.
A hand gripped his free one, and he turned all mental energy onto it.
“Angel, I need you to focus on my voice.”
He could do that, he could-
“Breathe,” Crowley said.
It was a struggle, but after a moment Aziraphale was able to take in a deep breath. It stuttered on its way out, but he got it through. He followed the rhythm Crowley gave him until his breathing leveled out. His senses returned, the book shop around him, the smell of fire that surrounded Crowley, the soft whisper of the wind outside.
Crowley was crouched low in front of him, glasses off to the side, and brows pinched in worry. The position he was in looked uncomfortable, but the demon didn’t seem to mind.
Folding long legs beneath himself, Crowley struggled to catch the angel’s gaze. “Are you alright?” he asked.
That was a loaded question wasn’t it? Perhaps physically, yes, he was unharmed. The rest was still up to debate. The lack of purpose was going to remain, even if he moved on from his panic. He still felt empty, devoid of motive.
His silence was telling to the demon. “Shit, ‘course you’re not alright. You just had a panic attack.” A pause, as Crowley looked away for a moment, thinking. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Aziraphale shook his head, and answered, “No. Not right now, dear. I just need a moment.”
And so they sat, one in front of the other, while Aziraphale calmed his nerves and gathered his thoughts. And once he had, he let everything loose. Words spilled from his lips, interspaced between shaky exhales and stinging eyes, until there was nothing left, his soul bared and emptied. Silence lapsed between them when he finished.
“You feel lost,” Crowley finally said, reaching to take one of Aziraphale’s hands in his own. “And, that’s okay.”
It didn’t feel okay to him, though. He was supposed to have something to follow. But… perhaps he had someone new to follow now. Something outside of Heaven, but not something entirely new. Something nearly as familiar.
“You don’t need to listen or follow someone blindly to be you. To have purpose.”
He reached forward and took Aziraphale’s other hand, sliding forward a bit until their knees knocked together. The angel appreciated the closeness, not sure he would be alright on his one at that moment. He had a rock in the middle of the ocean of feelings. He had a foundation to help him withstand the hurricane.
“You’re alright on your own, angel,” Crowley stated, a little ghost of a smile on his lips. “Your purpose is in your books, the care you put into them, your food you love so dearly. Your friendship with book girl, mentoring Adam. You don’t need Heaven anymore. You’ll be alright on your own.”
Aziraphale let it sink in for a moment. Crowley was right, he didn’t need to conform anymore. It would be hard to pull away and shake off Heaven’s conditioning, but he had things to keep him going.
He had dinners at the Ritz with Crowley, late nights in the book shop when they would drink and drink and drink until the sun rose. There were Sunday brunches with Anathema and Newt, Sunday evenings with Adam and his friends. Aziraphale had his bookshop, his few customers, and his life here on Earth.
Healing would be a process, but with Crowley by his side… maybe, just maybe he’d be alright.
Aziraphale squeezed Crowley’s hands in thanks, leaning forward to press a soft kiss to the demon’s cheek. “I suppose so, my dear. You’re correct. Thank you for talking me through it dear.”
Grumbling, Crowley looked away with a pout, “Don’t know why you’re smiling at me like that.”
“Of course not, dear.”
He was thankful regardless, Crowley always put things in perspective for him. Crowley was always there for him. Losing Heaven would take a while to get used to, this wouldn’t be the last break down, wouldn’t be the last time everything hit him and he floundered, drowned in his anxiety. But, he wasn’t alone in this. Crowley had gone through it and turned out alright, so would he.