Aziraphale sat by the fire, swaddled in his most comfortable clothes, with an antique recipe book open in his lap. As he leafed through the pages, he sipped chamomile from fine china. It was brewed to perfection. He had spent many a night on Earth this way. It was a grand way to live, but what made it truly perfect was being able to glance to his side and see his husband sprawled across his recliner, snoring gently. He allowed himself a joyful smile. It had been a couple of years, but the excitement of being able to call Crowley his husband had not yet worn off. Just as he returned his gaze to the book, there was a knock at the door. He frowned. Who would be calling at this hour?
"Hm... Wazzat, angel?" Crowley mumbled, cracking open one eye.
"Someone at the door," he replied pensively. He set down his cup, and the book. "I'll just be a moment, dear."
The demon gave a bleary hum of acknowledgement. Aziraphale made for the door, reminding himself to buy one of those stickers to discourage door-to-door salemen. Not that they ought to be calling so late! It was pitch black outside, and as cold as the twinkling pavement frost would suggest. He unlocked the door, and opened it a crack, peeking out. A sliver of streetlamp light fell over his bright blue eye; a tall silhouette immediately blocked it. The angel's eyes widened.
"Hello again, Aziraphale."
"Sherlock, my dear boy," he replied warmly, with a hint of sobriety. He looked rough; bearded, bruised, and battered. Blood was crushed over his eye. Sympathy rippled through his whole being.
After a long pause, Sherlock stared imploringly into Aziraphale's eyes. "Is Crowley in?" He asked. He sounded pained, and desperately exhausted. He had just arrived back in England, two years older and two years wiser, but it wasn’t time to go home yet. He had to clear his debts first.
"Of course. Do come in, child," Aziraphale said softly, stepping aside to let him into the hallway. "We've been expecting you for some time."
Sherlock hadn't seen either of them since his death. Crowley had vanished after their handshake, and Aziraphale had never shown his face at all. The next he knew, he was awake, gasping as his spine arched away from the mortuary slab. It had given Molly quite the fright. He has immediately sensed the need for secrecy. Who knew how many of Moriarty’s men still watched the hospital? He spun a yarn about having survived the fall, very little of which made sense, but it gave him the wiggle room he needed to escape London. For nearly a week, only Molly knew he was alive. When he contacted Mycroft from abroad, he heard his elder brother cry for the first time in his memory. He had not dared to call John. Whatever he had to do, it could go wrong. If he failed to hold up his end of the deal, he'd be gone again. He had seen what his death had done to John once. He couldn't force him through that again, if he failed. He had to wait.
Sherlock froze in the doorway. Crowley stretched out on a red velvet armchair, with his glasses nowhere in sight. They had last seen each other beneath St Bart's, on a plane somewhere between life and death. It didn't feel right, seeing him in person again. Crowley had become like a phantom in Sherlock's mind, the shadow upon every surface, the footsteps around every corner. He lived in constant fear that the demon would return for him. He swallowed the lump in his throat as a pair of yellow eyes flicked lazily over him. Doubt invaded Sherlock's mind. Had he failed, returned too early? Had he missed something? He nervously awaited judgement.
"Well," Crowley drawled, pushing himself up to sit straighter as he processed the unexpected visitor. "You look like shit."
Sherlock blinked in surprise. He heard a sigh as Aziraphale brushed past him, pouring an extra tea into a cup that hadn't been there before. "Was that really necessary, dear?"
The demon rolled his eyes. He snapped his fingers, making Sherlock jump, and disorientating him as an additional armchair materialised beside the other two. It was an exact replica of his seat from 221B, from the loose stitching on the left arm, to the faded upholstery, all the way down to the scuffed feet. Crowley gestured to it.
"Make yourself comfortable," he said. "You look like you could use a break."
Tentatively, Sherlock sat in the chair. His body immediately relaxed into the familiarity of the chair. It was perfect. Even the scent of his old flat clung to it: tobacco, dust and paper. He had no idea how much he'd missed it until he was sat in it again. He was snapped back to reality as a cup of tea was placed gently in his hands.
"Just right for drinking," said Aziraphale, and somewhere in the back of his mind, he recalled saying the same thing to John once in a church in Melbourne.
Sherlock could hardly shift his eyes away. Thousands of questions ricocheted around his head, and he was afraid to have the answers to most of them. Making a deal with a demon was one thing; having a crime-solving rivalry with an angel was quite another. Then there was the classic queries, about God, about heaven, about the Bible... Aziraphale finally spotted the stare that he was getting.
"Something the matter, dear boy?" He asked innocently.
"You're an angel."
"Well... Crowley did say that you figured that out, after your - ah - your little tumble," he said nervously, fiddling with his hands. Sherlock didn't seem to hear him.
"And you're shagging a demon," He said. Crowley choked on his tea, breaking into a coughing fit as a light blush peppered his cheeks. There was a short pause.
"Yes. No one's ever put it quite that bluntly before, but yes," the angel replied, an amused smile twitching onto his face. The detective hummed, frowning as he wondered what he ought to do with that information. He decided to throw it into his Mind Palace's new basement, where he threw anything that concerned the existence of the supernatural.
"And is that... allowed?" He asked uncertainty, looking up at him from beneath his furrowed brow.
"Oh, no, certainly not," he replied airily, but from the way he rocked back and forth nonchalantly on his feet, he didn't seem to mind. He then leaned forward, frowning at the scuffs and cuts that peppered his face. "Now, the matter of who I'm shagging aside, Sherlock... Would you mind, terribly, if I...?"
He reached out, hesitating halfway as he trailed off. Sherlock stared blankly at his outstretched fingers. He nodded numbly, not quite sure what was happening. To his surprise, Aziraphale's hand cupped his face, in a gesture that reminded him of rainy days spent inside with his mother, whenever he had a fever as a child. He shivered. He hadn't experienced any such tenderness in his rough years abroad, and he drank in the sensation like a dying man by a desert oasis. It was so comforting that he hardly noticed his aches and pains fade immediately, and every wound on his skin close up.
"There," Aziraphale said, clasping his hands together as he returned to his chair. He politely glossed over Sherlock's reaction.
He shook himself, feeling suddenly embarrassed at his response to such a simple gesture. "Thank you," he said, clearing his throat. He felt much more at ease, now he was free of pain. "Have you... Have you heard anything from John?"
The two husbands shared a glance. Aprehension, worry and a silent debate passed between them. "No," Crowley said finally. "We tried to get in touch. He wouldn't take our calls. Mrs Hudson reckons he hasn't even shown his face on Baker Street for almost as long as you've been gone."
Sherlock went very quiet. "Oh."
"Grief is like love. It does strange things to people," the demon said, by way of consolation. It didn't do much. In the face of an awkward silence, he looked to Aziraphale. The angel gestured silently for him to try again. "Look, Sherlock, we've been around for close to seven thousand years. We've seen a lot of humanity. There's hardly been a problem between two people, in all that time, that couldn't be fixed somehow."
"Well said, Crowley," Aziraphale said, giving him a bright, approving smile. It was a very specific kind of approving smile. The demon pumped his fist internally; he'd have company in bed tonight.
"Yes. It's possible... I think," Sherlock said. The two supernatural entities abruptly remembered that they weren't alone in the room. The detective stared past the angel to look at Crowley, his intent gaze posing a silent question.
The demon waved his hand vaguely, readjusting his position in his recliner. "Oh, right. You can relax. You fulfilled the contract," he said, running his hands through his hair. "Good job, you're free. Life's your oyster. Enjoy it."
Sherlock gave a sigh, and years worth of tension slipped away as easily as shrugging off a coat. Released from his contract, he could do as he liked once more. He could live. He may have risen from the dead in London, but it was in a cottage in the South Downs when he really started to breathe again.