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Sleeping Like The Dead

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Aziraphale had fallen into the habit of sleep. It was Crowley's fault, really. They'd moved in together, and he'd insisted that Aziraphale have a bed in his flat above the shop. The flat itself hadn't even been unlocked in over 200 years, seeing as Aziraphale had never bothered to venture beyond his safe haven of books on the ground floor.

So, one weekend, they spent their time in a dusty old flat from the 1700s, fixing rotten floorboards, clearing out the spiders and refreshing the paint on the walls. It was all done by hand. Crowley complained a bucketful, insisting it would be quicker and easier to just snap their fingers and have done with it, but Aziraphale wouldn't hear him. He insisted that homes should be furnished and decorated lovingly, through effort and careful thought. It made them special.

"You do want our home together to be special, don't you?" he said, raising his eyebrows in an open dare to challenge him.

Crowley twitched. He scowled, groaned dramatically, snarled toward the roof... and relented. "Fine!" he snapped, and quickly found a broom shoved into his hands.

"Excellent. Chop chop, my dear," he said smugly, picking up a feather duster from the side. Crowley had never liked those things; as a feathered creature, they seemed slightly barbaric. "Lots to do."

Crowley had got on with it, but not without complaints. He'd moaned and groaned and sworn and blessed and bitched about it until he was blue in the face, but he had to admit... Once it was done, he felt pretty good about himself. The bookshop was Aziraphale's space, he knew that. He didn't want to change it. But this... this was them. The floorboards were red mahogany, varnished to perfection, with pale walls to offset the darkness. Every few feet, there was an oil painting, or a sketch, or a treasured photograph. There were bookshelves here and there, of course. Potted plants made their homes in corners, brightening up the nooks and crannies, and they kept a bonsai tree on their bedroom windowsill. The kitchen was well stocked, with ditsy flower patterns on the tiles and black marble on the worktops. They had compromised on white silk for the bedsheets, provided Aziraphale promised not to eat anything messy in bed. The headboard was in the shape of two outstretched wings: one black, one white. Aziraphale slept beneath the black one, and Crowley beneath the white.

When the work was finally done, and they had rinsed themselves clean of paint and sweat, they settled beneath the coolness of the sheets. They both ached a little, unused to the manual labour that had come with replacing all the 18th century floorboards, and their eyelids were dropping. Aziraphale laid his head on Crowley's chest, letting out a contented sigh.

"I could stay like this forever," he murmured.

A warm smile tugged at the edges of the demon's mouth. "Same here, angel."

They took a damn good crack at it, too. They both fell into a deep sleep, their minds as tangled together as their bodies, sharing their calm and nostalgic dreams amongst a warm nest of eggshell white silk. Soon enough, they had been asleep for twelve hours... then twenty-four, forty-eight, thirty-six, seventy-two...

 

It wasn't necessarily unusual for AZ Fell & Co's to be closed for days on end. Usually, though, there was some sign of life. Neighbours were accustomed to seeing Mr Fell bustling back and forth on his shop floor, squirrelled away behind a closed sign during what ought to have been normal business hours. He had also been known to stay up to ungodly hours of the night. There was hardly ever a time where there wasn't a light in at least one window, or shadows moving around inside the shop. He was a part of the street. He belonged here as much as the pavement, or the listed buildings. Seeing the bookshop dark and lifeless, all the blinds closed, for over a week... It was just plain unnerving.

Chloe was especially concerned. She had always been a worrier, especially where other people were concerned. As a mother of four, and a damn good one at that, she had become very adept at picking people up on unhealthy behaviour. She'd often lectured Mr Fell about how a man his age ought to get more sleep, and consider taking some holidays. He usually brushed her off with an amused smile. He was a nice man. He'd agreed to look after all her children at one time or another, especially during the days when she had worked more than one job. Her eldest was now in his twenties, so she knew for a fact Mr Fell must be at least seventy by now. He was ageing well, but as she always said, appearances could be deceiving. He'd only ever taken one piece of advice she'd ever given:

"I worry that you're lonely sometimes, Mr Fell," she had said carelessly one day. "Perhaps I should try finding you a date."

He had seemed slightly alarmed by that. "O - oh, no, no, that won't be necessary, thank you Chloe," he'd said quickly, almost dropping the book he'd been holding. "I am quite capable of arranging those sorts of things for myself."

She'd been sceptical, but she needn't have been. It wasn't long after that conversation that she'd run into a skinny redhead with obvious bed hair on his way out of Mr Fell's shop. She had to admit, she'd been quite impressed. The man looked quite a bit younger than Mr Fell (if you remember that Mr Fell was at least twenty years older than he appeared to be), and he was definitely good looking, if a bit on the mature side. After the shock, she began to worry about something else: that poor, sweet, gullible Mr Fell was being exploited for his money. He had a lot of it, that was no secret to anyone, though it was a mystery where on earth it came from. She soon got to know Mr Crowley, though, and he wasn't so bad. He had quite a bit of money himself, it seemed, and had no need to sponge off Fell. As far as she could tell, he just had a thing for older men.

She tapped on the coffee shop counter restlessly. The barista, a friend of hers, smiled over his shoulder. "You look stressed, Chloe," he said, adding the whipped cream to her drink. "The kids giving you grief?"

"No, I'm just worried," she said, wringing her hands together.

He rolled his eyes, clicking the takeaway lid onto her drink. "What else is new?"

"I'm serious, Tom," she said. "Mr Fell's shop hasn't opened, and it's been nearly two weeks. The whole place is just totally silent."

"That's... eerie," said Tom, a Soho native for all his life. He was as familiar with the eccentric Mr Fell as anyone. "Have you knocked on the door?"

"Of course," she said, warming her hands on her drink. "No answer."

He hummed thoughtfully. Luckily, there was no queue in the coffee shop today. "I'd suggest giving him a call, but I don't think he gives out his phone number very easily," he said.

"Oh! Of course, I'm an idiot," she cried, hurriedly digging her mobile out of her messenger bag. "He gave it to me years ago, in case I needed a babysitter short-notice."

He rolled his eyes. "Of course he did," he scoffed, leaning on his elbows on the counter. "You've always been his favourite neighbour, Chloe."

"No, Mr Crowley is his favourite," she corrected, holding the phone to her ear with a sly smile. "I'm just a close second."

"Doesn't count, they live together," he muttered, only to be shushed.

Her phone rang. It kept going... In the bookshop, a few streets away, Aziraphale's ancient rotary telephone began to ring. It was on his desk on the ground floor. The sound filled the room, leaking into the adjacent shop front, but could not fully push through the newly installed floorboards above. In bed, an angel and demon snored on. In their shared dream, there was a very distant noise of a phone ringing, which they both ignored in favour of the peaceful Italian countryside scene they found themselves in. In the waking world, Crowley's nose twitched slightly, and he fidgeted in his sleep, tightening his grip on Aziraphale. That was as much of a reaction as the phone got.

Chloe frowned at the phone. "No answer," she said pensively, biting her lip.

"What about his boyfriend?" Tom suggested, grabbing a cloth and wiping down the worktops while they talked.

She ran her thumb up and down the warm takeaway cup. "I don't think anyone has his number apart from Mr Fell," she said. "I haven't seen him either, not for a long time, but his car's outside the shop like normal..."

Tom winced. "Well... There's always a chance that - " he began, but stopped. He shook his head. "No, nevermind."

She looked up sharply, narrowing her eyes at him. "What?" she said, giving him the full force of her motherly sternness. He sighed, scratching the back of his neck. "Tell me, Thomas."

He cringed. "God, no one calls me that but my dad," he said, laughing nervously. He was only a young man, around the same age as her eldest. "Look... Mr Fell's old, okay? I remember him being in that shop ever since I was little. He's been on that street longer than anyone, even old Terry, and he's ancient."

"What do you mean?" she said cautiously. She may be worrier, but she was also an optimist. She didn't want to leap to any conclusions.

"He has to be at least what, seventy? Eighty? Maybe older," he said with a shrug. He threw the cloth to one side. "Maybe he's passed on."

Chloe took a sharp intake of breath. "Tom!" she exclaimed, horrified, clutching a hand to her chest. "Don't say things like that!"

"What?" he said defensively, hugging himself tightly. "I don't want it to be true. He's a sweet old man and we all love him, even if he is a bit mad... But it's got to happen eventually, hasn't it? He can't just go on living forever."

Her shoulders sagged. "I guess you're right," she said forlornly, looking at her own white hairs that dangled down in front of her eyes. Mr Fell had joked that if that carried on, soon enough they'd match. "Maybe they're just on holiday somewhere..."

"And since when has Mr Fell ever done that?" Tom sighed, running a hand through his hair.

Chloe tried not to worry. She managed to convince herself, at least for a while, that Mr Fell and Mr Crowley had probably gone on a romantic getaway somewhere. They'd left the Bentley, taken a cab to the airport, and gone to clear the London smog out of their lungs. Yeah. That was probably it.

That explanation worked for a few weeks. Then, the weeks turned into months. The bookshop had gone dark in early September, and it was now nearly November. No one took a holiday that long. Rumours began to spread about the shop as Soho locals began to wonder where their beloved eccentric had vanished to. Mr Fell was an acquired taste. He tended to rub customers up the wrong way, and often came off as condescendingly polite if you didn't know him very well. It was, however, impossible to live in this part of Soho without having some form of regular contact with him, and even the most bitter and unpleasant people found themselves carving out a place in their heart for him one way or another. Locals often ran into him in cafes and restaurants, or in the park, and he turned up to most community events (especially the charitable ones, which were always a roaring success). People noticed when that stopped happening.

Chloe had been a good friend to Mr Fell, and if you couldn't find Crowley, she was usually the next best thing. Cafe employees were asking her why Mr Fell hadn't dropped in for his breakfast order in so long. Dog walkers stopped her in the street more than once, wondering if Mr Fell had hurt himself, because they hadn't seen him or his boyfriend on their afternoon strolls recently.

Each time, Chloe explained the situation as best she could. This usually amounted to: "Sorry, I'm not sure. The shop's been quiet for two months, and no one knows a thing," she said.

When the local LGBTQ+ charity held a fundraiser and Mr Fell & Crowley didn't show their faces, that was the last straw. The two of them were enthusiastic patrons of that charity in particular, and they had never missed an event... not to mention, the absence of Mr Fell's customary generous donations was keenly felt. The fundraiser was the least successful one in the charity's history, and no one went home feeling quite as good as usual. Angel's grace had, unbeknownst to anyone, become such an integral part of the proceedings over the years that losing it was like having a slap across the face.

The rumours took root in earnest after that night. Chloe suspected Tom and his friends had something to do with it; they meant well, of course, but it seemed like an awfully sad topic to gossip about. The rest of Soho felt it, too. The next time Chloe passed by the shop, there were piles of flowers on the doorstep. There were cards there too, with kind messages written on them:

RIP MR FELL: You're in a better place now, but we still love you. You accepted us before anyone else would. We will miss you xxx -- Soho Youth LGBTQ+ Society

At least no one will try to buy your books in Heaven, you loveable, crazy old bastard. Wishing you were here --- Tom Y.

Never Forget Mr Fell, always watching over us --- Soho Church of New Light

Mr Fell - all of Soho lost an angel this year. Here's to another lifetime of keeping up your legacy of kindness, love, acceptance, and never selling a single goddamn book -- Martha & family

Someone had put a picture of Mr Fell, a small and grainy image (the best anyone really had) amongst the memorial flowers. They were mostly white flowers, like roses, orchids and lilies, with a few yellow and blue blossoms too. She couldn't help but smile sadly. The colours suited Mr Fell's old sense of style, if it could be called such a thing... There was even a few tartan scarves of a variety of colours, encircling the bouquets. It was what he would have wanted. He'd have been very proud, she thought to herself, to see the community coming together like this. She angled her eyes upward, at the patch of sky where the clouds had parted, giving the old bookshop a halo of bright blue.

"Rest in peace, Mr Fell," she whispered, tears prickling at her eyes. She rubbed them slightly, feeling a little silly. He wouldn't have wanted her to cry over him. "Hope you're looking down on us, wherever it is you are..."

Little did she know, she was looking in the right direction. Aziraphale's bedroom window overlooked the street, and within the bedroom, the angel rolled over in his sleep for the fourth time in two months, landing himself back in Crowley's arms. He let out a small, contended noise, snorted in his sleep, and snuggled deeper into the pillow.

 

The vultures closed in during the last days of November. Chloe first noticed it when she was on her way home from work, and spotted a man half-stooped over Mr Fell's memorial flowers by the door. She frowned. Looking both ways, she jogged across the street.

"Hey!" she called. The man turned. "Excuse me, can I help you?"

The man straightened up, pulling his tweed jacket straight. He had crooked teeth, a layer of dark stubble and a hooked nose. "Possibly," he said, pushing his glasses further up his nose. He held out his hand for her to shake, which she cautiously took. "My name is Mr Aberdeen, pleasure to meet you. And you are?"

"Chloe Throne," she replied, pulling her hand back as soon as she could.

"Ms Throne," he said, rubbing his hands together. "I am a collector of rare and antique books, especially bibles and, well... the late Mr Fell had quite the selection in this shop, so I hear. When I heard the stubborn old goat had finally bitten the dust, well... I had to pop down. Did you ever meet him?"

She immediately scowled, her ageing face twisted with grief-stricken anger. "He was my friend," she said, her voice cracking slightly. Her throat tightened, but her eyes stayed dry. She wouldn't cry, not in front of this arrogant snob.

"Ah," Mr Aberdeen said, sensing he had misstepped. His eyes drifted away from her intense glare. "I do apologise, that was insensitive of me."

"Yeah," she said, crossing her arms and tapping her foot impatiently. "What are doing here, snooping around his shop? Can't you see the community is still mourning him?"

He glanced at the memorial flowers, which had doubled in number since Chloe had last seen it. "I see that," he said, apparently unmoved. "I was under the impression he wasn't so popular. Perhaps I have the wrong place..."

"No, you're right. He was a stubborn old goat, like you said," she said, emotions getting the better of her as she began to speak her mind. "He could be eccentric, rude, old-fashioned and weird and downright bloody mad, but he was the best thing that ever happened to Soho. What the hell does someone like you want around here, anyway?"

He blinked. "Isn't it obvious?" he said. "I'd like to know when his collection of books will be going up for sale."

Deep down in Chloe's chest, right in the section of her heart where she mourned her friend, something snapped. "You want... to buy... Mr Fell's books?" she asked slowly, spitting out each word through gritted teeth.

"Yes, that is what I said," he said, flattening out his lapels and eyeing her strangely. He clearly thought she was insane.

"Over my dead body!" she spat. She suddenly understood the fierce protectiveness Mr Fell had always had over his beloved collection, and somewhere in the back of her mind, she realised that she had very neatly stepped into his shoes on the matter. He would have smiled; he had trained her well. "Mr Fell had one rule in that shop: you can look, you can touch, you can even smell them, but you do not leave with a single goddamned book. Not one. You hear me? Not now, not ever."

He curled his lip. "Preposterous," he sneered, shaking his head and pushing past her rudely. "I'll find out which solicitor will be executing his will, and then we'll see where those books end up."

She glared at his back he retreated. Immediately, she took out her phone, texting everyone she knew in the Soho area. She meant what she said. She didn't want any snotty collectors getting their grubby fingers on Mr Fell's books, and she was going to make sure they didn't.

She sent a mass text: IMPORTANT - why not open a public reading room in AZ Fell's with all the old books? We need to keep them all together!! Mr Fell would roll in his grave if he knew anyone had sold them.

She quickly began to receive texts back, supporting the idea, and a few worrying about how the public might handle the books. Despite her sadness, she felt a stupid smile stuck to her face as she read the replies in the resulting group chat. It was like hearing Mr Fell all over again, fretting over his books, only it was not him. It was a multitude of people from all walks of life, rushing to defend his memory. Turns out, the voice of Soho and the voice of the old bookseller were shockingly similar.

 

At 3 AM on the second of December, Crowley rolled over. This was fairly unusual for him. He was usually a motionless sleeper, but it had been three months, and his muscles were getting restless. As he flipped over, his arm smacked Aziraphale on the head.

"Oof!" the angel cried, startled awake. He cracked his eyes open, throwing off Crowley's arm and sitting up slightly.

Crowley, sensing Aziraphale's mind finally disentangling itself from his, began to wake up too. "Uh..." he groaned, rolling over again and pushing his face into the pillow. "Go back to sleep, angel."

Aziraphale squinted, looking around the dark room, which was still fairly unfamiliar to him due to the renovations. "How long have we been asleep?" he mumbled.

"Can't have been that long," the demon said, lifting his head slightly. His eyes were only half open. "What time is it?"

"Three o'clock," he said, glancing across to the digital clock on the nightstand.

"S'fine then. It's only been a few hours," he said, already closing his eyes again. When Aziraphale didn't lie down next to him again, he sat back up, looking at him quizzically. "Angel?"

He had frozen, staring in awe and horror at the date and time on the clock. "Darling... It's December," he said quietly.

Crowley jumped up, practically climbing into Aziraphale's lap to get a look at the clock for himself. He stared in disbelief. "Sssshit," he hissed, nearly falling off the bed as he miracled himself into some proper clothes.

"Where are you going?" Aziraphale called after him.

"Checking on the Bentley!" he yelled back, thundering down the stairs and missing out the last few steps.

He'd left his baby alone for three months, and there was no telling what people could have done to her. He usually planned for long naps like this, making sure his beloved car was safe inside a storage unit, or a garage somewhere where neither rain nor hooligan mortals could get at her. He made a mental note to set an alarm next time he and Aziraphale fell asleep together; there was no telling how long they'd have stayed there, deeply entrenched in one another's minds, if he hadn't accidentally hit Aziraphale in the face. Years, maybe even centuries, could have been passed by as easily as a fish can swim.

Crowley burst through the front door, and immediately fell flat on his face. He let out an undignified half-shriek on the way down, right before his chin hit the concrete. He let out a long groan. He wasn't usually so bad at walking (okay, maybe he was, but that's besides the point); what had happened there?

He got back to his feet, looking at what had tripped him over. He jerked back, taking a moment to compute what he was seeing.

"What the bloody heaven is all this...?" he muttered. A mountain of flowers, ugly tartan scarves and blankets had been piled up on the doorstep, as well as a plethora of notes and grainy photos of Aziraphale. He crouched down, reading a few of them. He let out a snort of laughter, clapping his hand over his mouth to stifle an outright guffaw.

"Well, this is a thing," he snickered. He stood up, leaning into the bookshop to shout up the stairs. "ANGEL! Come look at this!"

Aziraphale came downstairs a few minutes later, pulling a grey woollen cardigan tightly around himself. "What is it, dear?" he said, stepping out onto the pavement and directly onto the mound of flowers. He blinked in surprise. "What on earth is going on here?"

"Correct me if I'm wrong, angel," he said, handing him a few of the memorial notes. He was clearly highly amused. "But it looks like you've been presumed dead."

His blue eyes flicked across the notes. He leafed through them like index cards, and by the time he was done, he stared in astounded silence at the touching tribute to his life that had been laid out so carefully. He could feel the pure love and adulation rolling off the memorial in waves. Crowley was saying something about the flowers, plucking a petal off one of the slightly wilted roses. He made a snide comment, but cut himself off when he heard a sniffle behind him.

"Angel?" he said, frowning as he looked back over his shoulder. He leapt to his feet immediately as he saw the first few tears rolling down Aziraphale's cheeks, gripping him in a tight hug. "Hey, hey, what's wrong? What do you need?"

Aziraphale shook his head, pulling back and dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief. "I'm not upset, I'm just... very touched," he said, with a sincere smile that crinkled his eyes. He looked up at Crowley, overflowing with joy. "They really do love me, don't they? These people?"

He laughed, stroking his thumb over his cheek. "Are you only just now realising that, angel?" he said, cocking a brow.

 

The following morning, Chloe had a day off. She was going to the AZ Fell memorial, to remove the old flowers and figure out if they needed any more. The idea of a public reading room was still up in the air, and they were still working out the kinks in the proposal before they figured out who they needed to convince to make it happen. When she arrived on the street corner however, her heart nearly leapt right out of her chest. All the flowers were gone, as well as the photographs and the notes... At long last, the blinds of AZ Fell & Co's had been lifted; warm and welcoming light now shone from the windows, but Mr Fell himself was nowhere to be seen. She scolded herself for expecting him to be. She had gotten past the denial stage already; someone had probably reopened to do a stock take. With a pulse of anxiety, she wondered if Mr Aberdeen had gotten the solicitor on-side. She broke into a run, hurrying over the road and bursting into the shop without even checking if it was open (it was, surprisingly).

The familiar smell of old paper, and faint mould, hit her like a warm blanket. She glanced around, eyes wide. Everything was in its place, just as she remembered. For the first time, she wondered what the last thing she'd ever said to Mr Fell had been. She was surprised it had taken her three months to consider that.

"Well well well, look who it is," said a familiar drawl. Chloe spun around, seeing Crowley lift himself to sit on the counter. "Been a while, hasn't it?"

She gasped. "Mr Crowley, where have you been?" she said, walking over to him. She caught the scent of his cologne, which was as familiar to her as the other scents in the shop. "We were all so worried about you, no one could figure out where you'd disappeared off to..."

He shrugged. "Oh, you know," he said, waving a hand vaguely. "I've been around."

She softened slightly, letting out a soft sigh. "I, uh... I'm so sorry for your loss," she said. She had known Crowley for long enough to realise that snark, laziness and emotional distance were his primary defence mechanisms. He may not be showing it, but he was grieving. "It must have been very hard for you to come back here. I understand why you stayed away for so long, I honestly do, and I don't blame you at all."

He lifted a brow slightly. "Yeah, thanks," he said, suppressing the note of amusement in his voice. His expression was hard to gauge behind his glasses.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" she asked sympathetically, wringing her hands together as her maternal instincts kicked in. "I know he meant a lot to you, and I'd hate to think you were struggling."

He pulled a thoughtful face. "Hm... I could go for a coffee. Black, no sugar," he said after a moment. "Could you fetch one for me?"

She smiled. "Of course. Sit tight, I'll be right back," she said, and left the shop.

She came back with two takeaway cups, one for her and one for Crowley. He was still sat on the counter when she got back, and seemed as nonchalant as ever. She gave him the cup, and was relieved to see him smile as he breathed in the smell of fresh coffee.

He popped off the takeaway lid. "Hey, you got the good stuff," he said appreciatively, taking a tentative sip of the hot drink.

"I figure you deserve it," she said, holding back a deluge of questions. What had actually happened to Mr Fell? Accident? Heart attack? Stroke? Had he been in the hospital for a while? If he had, when had he actually passed away? She felt that it would be insensitive to ask, especially if he had only died relatively recently. It would explain why Crowley had only just now reappeared, after possibly spending the last few months beside a hospital bed.

She went for an easier one. "So, do you plan on keeping the bookshop open?" she asked gently. "In his memory, I mean."

"Why?" he asked, in an unreadable tone as he stared down into the coffee cup at his own reflection.

She was slightly taken aback. "Um... to keep his memory alive," she said haltingly. Maybe she had hit a nerve... His tone wasn't especially hostile, just hard to gauge. "I know the community would really appreciate it. We were actually talking about turning this place into a reading room, to try and keep all the books in one place. We knew he'd have hated to see them getting sold."

He looked up at her in surprise, impressed, with a grin spreading onto his face. "You were, were you?" he said, sounding very pleased. That gave her hope.

"Yes," she said, squaring her shoulders proudly in a gesture that she hadn't realised she'd picked up from Aziraphale. Crowley recognised it, and it made him smile wider. "I chased off a collector the other day who came snooping around the collection. I couldn't believe his attitude."

"Hm, we'll have to keep an eye out for him," Crowley said, leaning back on the counter. He cocked a brow. "You really don't want any books getting sold on?"

"Of course we don't. The books belong in Soho. No one wants to see them go," she said with absolute conviction.

The demon gave a low chuckle, leaning back in further and raising his voice. "Hear that, angel?" he called into the back room. Chloe's brow furrowed at him. "People have been chasing customers away for you."

"They've been doing what?" a muffled voice asked from the back. Chloe's lungs abruptly emptied themselves. Her jaw dropped. That voice... it couldn't be...

Footsteps approached the main shop, the gait sounding hauntingly familiar. She stared. The doorknob began to turn, and her heart leapt. It didn't seem real. She half expected the door to swing open, only to find nobody there, or even to startle awake and find herself at home, in bed. None of that happened. Mr Fell stood in the door, intact right from his white hair, to his stupid tartan bow tie all the way down to his plain brown shoes. She let out an embarrassing squeal, thrusting her coffee into Crowley's waiting hand and leaping at her friend.

"Mr Fell!" she screamed, wrapping her arms around him so tightly that her muscles quaked.

He let out a startled noise, followed by a fond chuckle. He shared a glance with Crowley over her shoulder, and gently returned the hug. "Hello, my dear," he said, in a voice so soft and warm that it sent Chloe all the way back to her childhood nursery.

She pulled back, wiping tears from her eyes. "God, I thought I'd never hear your voice again," she said tearfully. She sniffled, feeling like a child again, and tried to compose herself. "Where have you been?"

He glanced awkwardly at Crowley, who shrugged cluelessly. "Er - Italy," he blurted out, thinking back to his three-month long dream. It hadn't seemed so long at the time. "Business trip, I'm afraid."

Chloe barked out a laugh, and put her face in her hands. "A business trip," she muttered, feeling ridiculous. "I - I'm so sorry. All of Soho thought that you - that you'd passed away."

He folded his hands together neatly beneath his ribcage. "Yes, so I hear," he said patiently. "I noticed the very touching tribute outside."

"Oh," she said, ducking her head slightly. "That must have been a surprise."

"Somewhat," he said, making an impressively large understatement.

"He kept the scarves and blankets," Crowley chipped in, slurping his coffee loudly. "Thanks for that, I've got to figure out how to get rid of them now."

"You will do no such thing," Aziraphale said sternly.

Chloe suddenly gasped. She jabbed a finger at Crowley. "You made me thinking you were grieving!" she cried. "I got you coffee!"

He shrugged, sipping the coffee with a smirk. "Oops," he drawled.

Aziraphale rolled his eyes. "Don't mind him. He finds this whole debacle rather amusing," he said, taking her by the shoulder and guiding her toward the back room. "I assure you I am quite well, but you look like you could use a sit down and a nice cup of tea. Perhaps a biscuit?"

She nodded slowly. "Yes... and maybe a nap while I'm at it," she joked.

"HA!" Crowley barked, throwing his head back as he began to cackle senselessly. He ended up putting too much energy into it, however. "Haha - OH SHIT - "

His hand slipped, and he fell head-first off the counter into a heap of tangled limbs on the floor with a loud thud. Aziraphale glanced over his shoulder, clucking his tongue. "Serves you right, you nasty old serpent," he said, rolling eyes and going to brew the tea.