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"For small creatures such as we,
 the vastness is bearable only through love."
Carl Sagan



All tales, even fairytales, must someday find their final chapters. Their last sentences. I have told you that the only difference between a fairytale and ghost story is this, the happy ending. The winding somewhere safe to sea. How do we start when we're uncertain? How do we go?

We ask the way.

Come, now, walk with me. We will start with the end.

 


 

A flat in Mayfair
2019

 

The silence shrieks.

The night is long and the shadows are hovering. Two men sit in a living room that seems to have been pulled from the pages of Architectural Digest. Untouched. Pristine. Cold. Glass windows show the city below and the sky above, the stars peering within like they might be curiosities in a museum.

Perhaps they are.

Come, let us talk of ancient things. Old gossip. Wives' tales. Of man's first disobedience and the fruit of that forbidden tree, which had brought death into the world. All our woe. The loss of Eden too.

We must always have someone to blame. So we yell at the snake, say it wasn’t our fault, we swear. 

Goodbye, Eden. Close the door, throw away the key. This is not Eden. Crowley knows that all too well. No, this is a modern city in a modern world. This is another time, another millennia, another century, another year. His home is a cave of empty spaces and loud echoes. After all this time, Crowley still wears black. He hides his eyes now. Buries his face in his hand. His little finger drums along the edge of the tumbler, the ice clinking as he tips the glass to and fro.

Do you realize? Do you? We're floating in space? Who are we but brief interruptions? Look, pinch your arm. Atoms only. Nitrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen. We are made of the same bricks as apple pies and shining stars. You were born in the Beginning, as I was, as the stars were and the angels too. This moment, this is only a fleeting blink here with a voice to speak and with eyes to see. If we loved before as voiceless stars, here we are given the briefest miracle to touch and to whisper it. For a moment, we live to be quick and tender.

Let me tell you a story. It goes like this: Fuck, I love you. 

The glass is very still in Crowley's hand. He watches how the light shifts, at times bright with reflection. Other times left to the dark. Exhaustion drums upon his shoulders. The curve of his tired spine. His eyes ache. That old migraine tapping at his skull, Here now, see here. Bent over upon a sofa, elbows splayed out over his sharp knees, whiskey in hand. He is too tired to think of his body, so it is left to its own devices. His heart beats because it thinks it should. His blood flows as it expects to. The black denim of his jeans feels damp with unchecked sweat. He doesn't bother to clean it up. To miracle it away. 

"So," Aziraphale says, perched carefully on the opposing chair. Framed by dark green leaves. 

"So."

"Bit of a long day."

"Yeah," Crowley snorts. "You can say that again."

A faint corner of Aziraphale's mouth curls up. Crowley holds a hand up. "Please," he says, "don't actually say it again. I'm actually begging you."

There's a faint, dry laugh from the angel. After a pause, Aziraphale tries again. His voice, when it comes, is soft. In the vast grey cavern of Crowley's flat, it echoes. On the concrete walls. On the black granite counters. On the stainless steel appliances, on the sleek leather sofa. There is no softness in the flat for the sound to find purchase. As the starlight looms in through the floor-to-ceiling windows, as they speak within the grey walls, Crowley is uncomfortably reminded of a monastery. Look at him, as severe as a Benedictine. (What comfort does he give himself but wine? Nothing. Nothing and never. He is a hellthing, belonging nowhere soft. He knows what he is.)

What he can have. What he cannot. 

Breathe in, breathe out. (Crowley thinks of the ocean, the white shoreline of the Seven Sisters. He has a vision of himself walking along the brackish edge, there where the sea meets the river. His long-fingered hands shoved in his pockets, his boots damp with water. There might be a cottage then, there might be somewhere safe to go.) 

And now, look up. The room is quiet and Aziraphale wears that damnable old soft smile. Crowley's immortal hand twitches, still damp and still lonely, remembering the shape of Aziraphale's own. They had held tight together on the long bus ride home, slouched in bucket seats and not speaking. An unbroken and comfortable silence. The English countryside had passed by the window, laid in the blanket of night. Yet Crowley had still picked out the grasses and the trees. Had named the wildflowers and the bushes. Ash and hawthorn, alder and oak. See the soft blue petals of the forget-me-nots, the white intricacies of the Queen Anne’s Lace. All the while, Crowley had held Aziraphale’s hand.

At the end of the world, at least he had been given this.

Crowley stares hard at Aziraphale's mouth. He swallows, his long neck nervous. I thought we'd never get here. Figured it wasn't meant for us. Doesn't feel real, angel, doesn't feel real yet. Thought I'd chase you forever. Stand by you forever, never talking about it. You gave me the once, woke me up, told me you loved me in a bed. Seventy-eight years ago. Just because you're loved doesn't mean you get a happy ending, does it? (It aches more when you love me back. When I can't tell you. Can't touch you.) 

But now - I'm wrong about everything. Aren't I? Tell me I am. Tell me I'm wrong. I'll take it. I don't mind being wrong, not when it brings you closer. 

Tell me I'm wrong. 

The shadows cast a grey cover over Aziraphale’s face. They have not bothered with the lights. They have not spoken. Here they sit, two men with the dust of the End Times on their shoes, quietly staring at each other in the dark. 

Crowley clears his throat. “You can take the bed. I can, you know, on the sofa.”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale says. 

“Done it before. Loads of times.”

 Do be serious,” Aziraphale says and hesitates. “We’ve shared a bed before.”

Crowley is red on his cheeks. His neck is blotchy. Blood always betrays us in the end. “Yeah,” he says. “We sure did.” 

 


 

Yes, they had shared a bed once. Remember now. Let’s go back to 1941. A demon laid out like a corpse, his bedshirt creased and hair as long as Ophelia's in the water. A golden-haired angel bent over him. The kiss had been long. Aziraphale held Crowley’s mouth crushed to his own. If he doesn’t stop kissing, he doesn’t let go, then there might be a chance. But the endless moments had stretched on into endless minutes and Crowley remained as pliant as a corpse. His lips warm yet unmoving. His hands did not reach for Aziraphale. Still, Aziraphale had all night and and hope enough to match, so he kissed on, holding the demon to him, burying his needing hands in hair as red as a burning bush.

Crowley had stepped up to the mirror and leaned in. For love, Dear Reader, goes both ways. He had kissed back. He closed his yellow eyes in the center of a frozen lake under a fixed sky; he opened his yellow eyes in the center of a wide bed of a shadowy flat. Held in hands of loving grace. 

“Is it - is it you?” Aziraphale had whispered, his eyes wide. 

“It’s me, yeah. Here I am.”

 Crowley .”

"Angel.” He reached for Aziraphale’s solid arm. A live power wire begging to be grounded. The taste of Aziraphale's kiss still lingered in his mouth (like black tea and madeleines). 

"Oh my - my dear," Aziraphale had gasped, leaning back. His eyes like blueshift, searching Crowley's face intensely. "You're awake."

Crowley's mouth had been very dry. His eyes were very wide. He nodded slowly, one hand reaching up and hesitating, coming then to cup the side of Aziraphale's face. 

"You kis - You shouldn't've, look, you know - " He was shaking. His hand was rattling. Useless bones in his bag of skin. Is the heat on? Is something burning? In an instant, he felt very warm. Aziraphale again. Aziraphale always. There is no center of Crowley's Universe but Aziraphale. Never has been. See how his thumb had stroked over the soft skin of his cheek, plump as a plum, there to be tasted. I want you. (I shouldn't. I'll ruin everything. Fuck it up.)

Then silence as his words were cut off, another kiss pressed to his mouth. 

“I know,” Aziraphale said. Their foreheads tipped together, their hands tied in a knot. “I know I shouldn’t -“

“A night. Just once. Please,” Crowley begged. Just a night. Please, can we have that? I’ll never ask again. (I shouldn’t ask now.) All I want is you, all I have ever wanted is you. I can make miracles happen just for a little while, build you a bed from a pumpkin, give you the world in my palm. If I slide into you, into your body, would you fit me as well as a glass slipper? In the morning, the magic will end. Back to yours and back to mine. I promise I won’t come around asking to fit you again. I won’t ask twice. Please. Tonight. Let me love you tonight. 

They have kissed before. But it’s different here. Before, it had been brief and apologetic. Tea-stained and madeleine-flavored. This time, in Crowley’s bed, they find themselves pressed together, chest to warm chest. Only a few layers of fabric between their bodies. 

“Tonight,” Aziraphale agreed, resting one hand on Crowley’s chest. “And in the morning -“

“It’ll never have happened. We’ll go on as we have been.”

“Yes.”

“Come here," Crowley said, reaching out with an uncursed hand.

And Aziraphale went.

 


 

“It was - No one was hurt - “

“Angel.”

“Do you remember?”

“Yeah, I bloody remember," Crowley snaps. "I think about it every day. Do I remember - "

“My dear,” Aziraphale holds out his hand. Palm up. “Do come to bed.”

Crowley stares at the outstretched hand. He is a hellthing, a damned thing, he knows not to touch. (Fallen creatures know to keep their hands back, that to reach out is to be struck. To be burnt. Don't reach. Don't presume. Don't take. Not for you.) 

"I love you," Aziraphale says.

"You shouldn't."

"But I do."

"I'm a demon. A snake. Look, don't - don't let me drag you down with me."

Aziraphale is thoughtful. He turns his ring on his small finger, an old nervous habit from the dawn of time. "Are snakes so bad?"

The night is long, yes, but it ends. Tomorrow, what do you hold? Crowley swallows. He's always trusted tomorrow, yet tomorrow seems to hold thirty pieces of silver. What have you held in your hands? What rests in the promised land of the future? A bit of slight of hand. A lie tied around a little finger. 

"Crowley - "

"Don't." Don't talk to me about faith. Don't talk to me about God. My eyes are as good as yours, I know what I've seen. What's there to believe in but the dirt?

"No," Aziraphale says, bringing Crowley's fingers to his mouth. Pressing a kiss to his fingers, the skin of his useless body. I don't deserve you. I'm sorry I'm not there enough. I'm sorry to be hard for you. 

"What - "

"Don't think about that."

"About what?"

"Anything. Just -" Aziraphale whispers. What? Just what? "Just here. Focus on me. Believe in this. Can you?"

Yes. But he doesn't say it. (Sometimes it's too much.) He takes Aziraphale's outstretched hand and allows himself to be led to his own bedroom. At the end of the world, there is a bed and it's big enough for two. The sheets are grey Egyptian cotton. 450-count thread. There's no princess. There's no prince. What wolf do you find when we have mouths on each other, begging for touch? Bite me. Touch me. Put your mouth on me please. Where is Beauty when we chose to wake and walk? When we kissed back?

You love me. I love you. What else has ever mattered? It's the end of the world. Terminus est. Finis terre. The world torn open and sewn back up. Here, take this poultice. Here, let's stitch ourselves back up. The end will come, for it must. But not yet, not quite yet. Kiss me instead, back away from this edge. Not yet, not yet. I haven't had time to love you yet. Not properly. We'll figure it out. Not yet. I won't let it. 

There is a kiss and it's made of true love. Crowley's eyes are hot. Aziraphale is shadowy and soft against him. There are pretty words and metaphors but the truth is this: they are no different from us, temporary and beautiful things fumbling gently in the dark. Crowley has been promised eternity, yet he feels an ending in his bones, in the nebula he once was. In the song he was born into being. There was a Beginning and there must someday be an End.

What sort of ending? He closes his eyes. Let me tell you what he finds.

There is a frozen lake and there is a sliver of mirror slipping from his wet face. Someone hugging him. Their hearts are beating and warm. 

There is a shoe that fits perfectly.

There is a beast with a pulse, a kiss upon his mouth. The rose petals upon the ground.

There is a knife thrown to the floor, clattering upon the tile. Seafoam on the waves and a promise of someday, maybe. 

And, yes, as always - Dear Reader, there is a kiss. 

"Angel," he whispers, pushed down into the pillows. Into the mattress. It had started here, in his tomb of a bedroom. Look now at the brambleless path. Walk it now. There are no thorns to tear your jacket (they have all been pruned). There is no dust (it has all been cleaned). There are no teeth to eat you with (not unless you ask). Is this it? He doesn't know. But there are soft lips on his sternum and warm hands on his narrow hips. His joints ache. His brows are heavy. But his heart still scatters, still jitters. Hope can be heavy. Love can be quietly triumphant. We can make love in sober joy. Not all miracles are bathed in light. The most important happen in the dark. 

Light the candle. Keep the oil burning. Keep it on, in case someone needs to find it. Crowley has kept his heart burning like a lighthouse. He kisses and is kissed, finally calling love like a ship home. 

"What do you want?" Aziraphale whispers. Crowley rattles, shivering in strong hands and a thick-fingered hold. He has had so much time to want. Too much time to imagine. He wants to be bent backward over his bed and to come down Aziraphale's throat and to tell the angel about making the stars. He wants to trace his first name on Aziraphale's back, find his name and eyes returned to him in a cottage mirror. He wants to bake bread for the angel in a cottage of their own, laughing and gripping Aziraphale with white-floured hands. He wants to promise forever in St James Park, matching rings and their bowties as green as the garden they met in. He wants to kiss Aziraphale before the lectern he'd stolen in 1941, the same night he'd been kissed once. He wants to confess with a glass of wine in his hand and be taken apart in his bedroom. To call their wings out and wrap rings around each other so that there might never be a question of love again. 

He has had time to think. He has had time to dream. But dreams are fleeting things and this moment, strangely enough, seems both frail and real. 

"... whatever you want."

"Tell me."

Crowley flushes. He's not accustomed to words. Not out loud. They stay in his journal, an avalanche of confessions. He hands the leatherbound journal to Aziraphale without a word.

You asked me once what the journal might contain. Let me tell you.

I have been writing to you all this time. This is everything I've ever wanted. You don't have to do all of it. You don't have to do any of it. Just let me hold your hand sometimes. Let me love you. Let me stand next to you. Let me be yours. I don't even need to claim you. Just reach for me sometimes. Indulge me sometimes. I know what I am. I don't deserve you. I'll go my whole life trying though. I'll try to make myself good enough. I'll love you as best I can. You've made me better by loving you. I'm more myself when I love you. The world is clearer. The Universe is brighter. And if you don't love me, that's alright. I'll keep on loving you through it all. I don't need you to love me back. Consider me given freely. Whether a gift or a weight, I don't know.

Be careful before you say yes. Before you accept. (I don't know if I can handle it if you leave.) 

Aziraphale takes the journal with careful hands. He turns each page carefully, licking his fingers to wet the tips as he goes. Crowley watches his tongue, his open mouth.

"You never read it?" Crowley says, furrowing a brow.

"No," Aziraphale says. "It would have been an invasion of your privacy, my dear." The pale eyes flicker up and hold his own. Watch the solid neck, the bounce of the Adam's apple as Aziraphale swallows. "Do you mean this?" His voice is very quiet. "This?"

"Every word."

All the words. I love you. 

The journal drops to the floor and Aziraphale kisses Crowley again, pushing him back into the bed. A human mouth to a human mouth. He tastes like dust and sweat. Tongue to tongue, teeth to teeth. Crowley holds Aziraphale's bottom lip between his teeth carefully, plump with blood. He never bites down, never tears the skin. 

"You haven't finished," Crowley whispers.

"No," Aziraphale says. "Just tell me the story now. Together." His hands run down Crowley's single-barrel chest, dipping into his waistband. "How does it go, Crowley? You and me?"

It goes like this. His jeans are undone and lost to history. Aziraphale holds him in place with a firm palm on his breastbone and his mouth sinking lower and lower. Crowley cries out as Aziraphale hovers between his thighs, breathing hotly on his inner thighs, running reverent fingers through copper curls. 

"Angel," he whispers. And he is begging. God, how he is begging. "Please. Please - I'm sorr -"

"Don't," Aziraphale murmurs, holding Crowley's hips down and sucking him into that forbidden mouth. Crowley shoves a fist between his own teeth, trying not to cry out. He has never been touched but by his own hand, never never never. It's almost too much. What if I'm not doing this right? What if I don't taste right? Am I awful, angel? What if I come too soon? What if I let you down? The wide fingers spread out on his chest, petting the downy red there, saying with gentle touch I love you, don't worry. He bites his lip and keeps the ruin in. His cock in an angel's mouth, a hot tongue slipping up the underside, a steady hand cupping him. Pleasure locked away. The thing we hold back the most, our own joy. Look now, the black dawn of an unknown tomorrow. A miracle in his bed. 

Careful, Crowley wants to say. I'm red, I'll get red all over you. 

Aziraphale reaches for him as if to say red is beautiful, red is you. Let me have red. Every heart is red. 

(Here he comes, red as a warning. Red as a prayer book. They will fuck here, upon a bed and leave red. Here in the white sheets, leaving the confession spread out. They will fuck against the earth, the stone floor of a cavern, the concrete walls of his heartless flat. Their red like fingerpaints, like the first paintings on the walls of the cave, fingers dipped in red ochre. The end is coming, the end is gone. Start again, start over in the dark. Tomorrow the dawn will come and it will begin with a story written in red, their radiance scrawled against their belonging earth.)

Aziraphale touches him. His hands trail down Crowley’s chest, his stomach, lower still. Crowley bites off a moan. Every time is the first time. Every time is Eden. I will climb the palm tree and take hold of its fruit. If the world ends, then Crowley has loved once. He has been loved back. It's all we've ever asked for. Find us in our beds. Our glass coffins. Offering out our hearts, offering ourselves as half-wounded and vulnerable creatures. What have we ever asked for in fairytales but a happy ending? What have we ever asked for in fairytales but to love and be loved back? Yes, yes, yes, he is loved. How does it go? The end? We've dipped in and out. Let's wake up. Please, look. Look at me. Listen. There is a love in me raging. And I'm going to love you darkly and love you brightly. I will love you through every station of the sun. Don't say goodbye. Say hello instead. Come here and kiss me. And Aziraphale does. 

(For in happy endings we are always kissed. In happy endings, we are never alone.)

Aziraphale is solid between his thighs and hot to the touch. One burner, set to high. Boiling over. Scalding. The press of their mouths is soft and gorgeously furious. God, it's been so long. I thought it'd be different. Violent. Strange. Desperate. It is not desperate. They move curiously, asking questions with fingers knocking upon skin. Touch not with the boundaries of no but on a rolling explosion of yes yes yes touch me please yes. 

Can I touch you here?

Yes.

Is this okay?

Yes.

Can I come in?

Yes, yes, yes, please. 

"I would have - even then - " Aziraphale gasps, Crowley sucking a violent and violet bruise into the tender flesh of his neck. "In the bedroom."

He pauses, his teeth scraping and hovering over skin. "Why didn't you?"

Aziraphale is quiet. His chest heaves with rough breath. His words are quiet, yet Crowley hears them without question. "I wanted you to reach back. And didn't want to question it."

"Do you trust me now?" Crowley asks.

"Yes. I trusted you then."

"You didn't."

"It wasn't you."

Crowley is silent. He doesn't trust himself even now. The curse had been invisible. Now he looks at his own splayed and spindly fingers on the bedsheets, wondering if it still lingers in his cells. Locked away. When he looks at Aziraphale, his irises shake in fear. What if I hurt you? What if I hurt you and I don't even realize I'm doing it? How can you trust me? How can you know it's safe?

"I don't know how to touch you without - " He says. "What if - " I don't know how to touch you without hurting you. What if I'm too much? Too rough? What if the wolf is there in me still?

"Come here," Aziraphale says, smiling in the moonlight. And Crowley loves him, so Crowley does. 

"Are you sure - about tomorrow?" I can find a way to make it my fault. I can tell them I convinced you. Tempted you. It was all my fault. I can hand you a bar of soap, a bottle of bleach. Look, you've got a spot of red on you. I can get it out. 

You can wash yourself of me. (Take it. Take me off.) 

"Yes," Aziraphale says. His hands find their way within Crowley's body, slow and quiet. A quiet wave within him, rocking back and forth. Crowley's hands grip at Aziraphale's broad shoulders, a flush on his face, mortified at exposure. He's never been seen so bare, never been laid so open. But here he is naked in his own bed, pale as a snowstorm on grey shale sheets. There's a quiet ocean of an angel rocking his hand into him, Aziraphale's own furiously red cock pressed heavy and wanting against his inner thigh. Crowley's spine shivers at the feel of it against him, the knocking upon his own skin, the asking and the wanting. This enter me please, you will, I'll let you in and I'll come apart on you inside of me (and I'll never let you go). There is a moment before the singularity, looking down upon your body and knowing it for the last time as half-empty and incomplete. Crowley is aware of the empty spaces of his miserable skin and bones. He knows how much space is in his open mouth (big enough to kiss you with). 

Please fuck me. Please, I'm begging you. It hurts without you. The wolf has always known the terror of his wants. He's never asked if he was welcome. He circles the house, blows upon the straw, the sticks, the stone. He crawls into the bed and pulls the covers tight. No beast thinks to ask on the door. No wolf thinks to ask if anyone wants to join him. 

"Can I?" Aziraphale asks, hard and pressing in. Crowley nods. Silent and overwhelmed and desperately clinging on. Yes, yes, yes, please, don't you dare leave me here. 

Tell me you love me. It hurts like a hunger, gnawing. Crowley cups his hands, holding them out, hoping to receive the words. It is surreal, these words, the least original combination of human language. When it is said, breathed into the spaces between us, I love you is always a quotation. It has always been borrowed from another person’s lips. I love you. I am out of air. Fuck, I need you. Sparks, a vandalism of light. His head pushes back, back into the sweat-soaked pillow (dripping down his back, behind his ears, Aziraphale licks it away). A careful tongue traces the lines of his throat. Crowley's wretched hands are desperate for something, fumbling gracelessly at Aziraphale’s bicep, his forearms, around his waist. At this beautiful creature flung out of the sky, this being of light. Crowley swallows the light, bearing down upon Aziraphale,  where the angel is hard and he is soft. Aziraphale cries out with a shout. The wolf is starving. I did this to him. I’m doing this to him. You're so bloody gorgeous. Aziraphale, beautiful and as dangerous as lightning. (Crowley is transfixed, he cannot look away.) 

"I love you," Aziraphale whispers into his ear. "So much. I love you so much." Crowley gasps, lightning in his nerves, realizing that he's been repeating a broken rosary of I love yous over and over and over again. His thighs spread open wider, his muscles tense and head pushed back into the pillow. His body pushed into the mattress, Aziraphale's hands wrapping around his wrists like cords upon a kitchen chair. 

"Angel," he cries out. Aziraphale pushes in, moving within him like a holy dove across the sky, soaring over a flood and looking for dry land. His eyes are tightly closed, keeping his damnation to himself. But across the screen of his eyelids, there are explosions of bright matter and gas giants. A nebula, a supernova. Every story is the same, the only difference is the ending. Tell me a fairytale, give me a happy ending. Once upon a time, there were two boys upon a garden wall. Rival families, rival names, yes, but they've got their hearts in common. Once upon a time, Rose Red offered an apple to Snow White, said leave your evil stepmother, come with me. 

Aziraphale holds him steady, holds him safe. Fucking into him with a desperately hard cock. Crowley's own dick is furious and red, leaking with everything faintly human. Look at him, at ourselves, beautiful and radiant messes. Shuddering heaps of muscle and bone, his sweat is sour, his skin is salty. Still, Aziraphale keeps a hand wrapped tight around him, their bellies shifting against each other, rubbing one out to the end of the world. He's going to come. He can't get away from the mouth on himself. He can't get away from the cock inside, an axis upon which he revolves. He can't get away from the constant brilliance of the hand upon him, coaxing some sort of white heat from himself. He doesn't want to. With a cry, Crowley gives over. Spills and comes with a silent scream. The act of Creation, a bang, a brightness, a bit of wonder. Aziraphale follows him to his own end of the line, his own completion, coming inside of Crowley's temple of a body, spilling out an offering. 

I love you. I love you. I love you. Everything else is a lie. Crowley shivers and shudders around Aziraphale. His fingers dig graves into Aziraphale's upper arms. 

They lie there in the bleak night, heaving under the watchful stars. Crowley chokes on Revelations, on the End of the World. It presses in, the dark outside his door. Aziraphale tight against him. Bare chest to bare chest, hearts in parallel. Lined up in syzygy. Fear in his throat, dangerous as a chickenbone. Anxiety stuck beneath his fingernails. His forehead feels damp with terror. Don't think about that. Think about the solidity under his arm, the fingers tracing circles around his navel. Think about the warm breath on his stomach, where Aziraphale's head rests.

Their sweat cools. His forehead is damp, his belly chilled. Aziraphale moves to pull out. Crowley holds him.

"Not yet," he whispers. "Please." Stay with me.

"Alright." 

The light is faint. The dawn is there, pressing in and knocking on the window. Knocking on the door. He lifts his head from the pillow, watching the movement through the stations of the day. Light again, light always. It has never faltered. Never failed. We can count upon looking to the sky. We can count upon the sun. Crowley waits for the star to visit, knowing the exact shape of it, the exact measure of its brilliance. He had hung the sun and the stars too, had lit the candles for a rainy day. Now, when all but hope has fled, they still burn. Follow the shepherds. Follow the sun. We know our way, even in the dark.

What will tomorrow bring? His nervous heart doesn't know. See his twisted mouth set in a grim line, his hands tightening around Aziraphale's shoulders. Tomorrow will bring the war again. Tomorrow will bring the battle again, the soldiers once more in the reeds and the bushes too. Here the rebels camp in a soft bed, always outnumbered, waiting for the drums of war. 

"Are you ready?" Crowley asks, pressing a kiss to Aziraphale's soft hair.

"No. Are you?"

"No. But - "

"Tomorrow," Aziraphale whispers.

"Yes." 

"And after?"

"Always," Crowley promises. Always. There's no life without loving you.

"What will that be like?" Aziraphale asks. There are many answers and Crowley is silent. He doesn't need to answer, they are woven from the same cloth. Tomorrow is a coat of many colors. Tomorrow, if they get through tomorrow, then what will it look like after? 

"I don't know."

Consider dinner at the Ritz. A picnic in the South Downs. A drunken stumble through Devil's Dyke, the taste of red wine still on their tongues. They'll kiss and build a cottage there and no one will blow it down. There will be miracles there. The centuries will come. The millennia will go. Someday, Crowley knows, this world will turn to ash and rock. In 7.9 billion years, the world will be swallowed by a red sun and Crowley will reach out a hand, take them both to the stars. Beyond that, around a trillion years, the Universe will someday end, pulling everything along with it, the planets and the firmament too. There, crushed into another Beginning, they will be together still. Once more, as always, one again. We will be there too. You and me and the angels.

"Are you scared?" Aziraphale asks. 

Yes. Crowley leans over and kisses him. Mouth to mouth, tongue to tongue, sharing the oxygen in their lungs. Holding on to each other, rafts each in this storm-tossed sea. For where did we begin? A prick of the finger. A curse and blood spilled. A long sleep. It is not over, not when the dragons stir, rolling over in their underground caves. Draw your sword, draw your weapon. Keep bare your unquiet heart. This is what we came for. Every word I have given you is the same. I love you. Goodbye. Hello. It's been a long story but it's this, always. Tomorrow, the sun will rise and here you are, watching it here with me. Is this a happy ending? If there's a tomorrow, is it an ending at all? Come now. It is time for the shepherds. After, we will pray for after. After, find me in a bedroom. There will be light. There will be gentle days again and we will sleep in halcyon hands.

“I love you,” Crowley whispers, swallowing hard. I love you. We can make no promises. Tomorrow never shows its hand. Heaven will come for us and Hell too. We won’t go silently into that good night, angel, I promise you. I’ll do everything. Anything. Promise that we’ll make it back here. Promise that if we get separated, I’ll find you again at the first rendezvous point, there on a bench in the park. I’ll wait for days, weeks, years. I’ll find you again. 

Aziraphale closes his eyes. Crowley watches the slight movement beneath the eyelids. He has learned Aziraphale for six-thousand years. He knows the little tells, little movements, he knows them all. Aziraphale closes his eyes to right himself and gather strength. Now, with Crowley in his arms, he will be strong again, strong always.

 “I love you too,” he breathes. Crowley's chest rocks like a wave. This is the only thing that has mattered. This and the light left on. The burning candle in a theatre, the lighthouse over the storm-rattled sea. Here we go again against the dark, carrying torches long after the wicks were burnt down. Our love, our light, a miracle always. Aziraphale shines into Crowley’s dark places, scaring away the shadows. 

(The strangest word in the English language is syzygy. It is the direct, straight-line configuration of celestial bodies. Aziraphale moves to lay over Crowley, each waiting for their breath to even, their pulses to stabilize. Their hearts lined up in something like syzygy, ready to be read like the stars.)

“Do you ever wonder if we didn't come first?" Aziraphale asks, an echo in the unlit room. "If they invented us like one of their myths. Their fairytales. Stories? A boy recreated the world today. Do you think they - well, could have started it?"

"It's a possibility, angel." Crowley arches one cast-iron eyebrow, the ghost of a smile on his mouth. When he speaks, his voice is as rich and dark as the soil, as the ocean, and crowded with red rust. "If they did, then there's a fighting chance. If they put their minds to it. And they will." They always do. Do fairytales exist? If we write them. If we make them. We are the authors, we tell the stories. The happy endings held in the palms of our outstretched hands.

Hope (that awful, unbearable promise, that thing with feathers) fills his chest. They have time enough for now. Crowley closes his eyes and floats off in the wine-deep. Whether it is space or the ocean dark, he does not know. I love you. I love you. I love you. I will love you tomorrow. Tomorrow comes, the dawn will come. Carry this torch, carry this milk, carry this bread. Tell me, what will you take with you into the long night? Here, come. There's enough to share. Take this, this little bit of burning hope. There will be light tomorrow. It will come with the dawn. 

Find me tomorrow. When we might kiss and wake up.