It’s night. Crowley’s flat feels emptier and more cavernous than usual, the minimal brutalist interior shutting out any noises of the city beyond. It’s as if the whole world is empty, and it’s just Crowley, alone in the dark.
Somewhere, there is a stain on the rug that used to be a demon. Somewhere there are photographs of nebulae and distant galaxies, torn haphazardly out of a coffee table book and discarded.
Somewhere, a phone is ringing.
Crowley’s fingers twitch on empty air, reaching for a plant mister that isn’t there.
Why would it be? It had torn itself into green plastic fragments, spilling its unblessed contents onto the rug and Crowley’s shoes.
Crowley shakes his head. No, that had been before… The thought slips through his fingers.
Agitated, Crowley paces through the corridor, his vertical pupils making the space of his flat easy to navigate in the dark. The humid air of the plant room welcomes him like a wet and smothering kiss. The foliage in the room is shivering faintly. The prayer plant doesn’t quite know what to do with its leaves, uncurling them and recurring them. Crowley hisses at it. “Don’t get comfortable,” he tells the plant. Its variegated leaves brighten in terror. The air is thick with chemical responses to herbaceous terror; all around him, plants are producing compounds to make their leaves bitter, recognizing a predator in their midst. Ordinarily, Crowley would feel satisfaction. Tonight, he just feels exhausted, every bit as hunted as his plants. He’d been looking for something. Hadn’t he? Something was out of place.
No. No, that wasn’t right. Everything was better now. He was safe. They were— Time is blurring together. Crowley’s head aches.
Somewhere in his flat, a phone is ringing.
“I’ll be back for you,” Crowley tells the quaking maranta plant.
The phone. Hadn’t there been a phone call? He remembers hanging it up, cutting off the urgent voice at the other end. That had been before. Everything was fine now.
So why does Crowley feel so frightened? His heart thunders uselessly in his ears. Why is it doing that? Demons don’t need hearts. (Crowley had one, anyway.) But the clamor wouldn’t be silenced, timpani and strident chime.
The phone sounds wrong, but familiar. So much of this feels wrong, but familiar, as though Crowley has lived through this before but all the events of the past are happening at once, jumbled. Why is he alone? Where is—
The telephone isn’t his. It’s an old rotary-dial phone, corded, made of brass and bakelite. It’s comfortable and familiar. It fits in in Crowley’s apartment about as well as an orangutan in a library. This phone has never been here. (Crowley wants it here.)
It’s ringing insistently. That’s why the sound was alien—this isn’t Crowley outdated phone, which is circa 1990. This piece of technology is at least half a century out of date (probably more). Crowley yanks the receiver free, pressing it to his ear. It isn’t connected to any sort of cable, but Crowley can hear the sort of silence at the other end that implies a presence.
“Crowley.” His voice is a croak, throat inexplicably tight.
“Yes.” The voice on the other end of the line is familiar. It ought to be. Crowley hears it every time he opens his own mouth to speak. “It is.”
There’s a malicious amusement there, and Crowley can feel his own hair standing on end. Again, his instincts are screaming at him that everything is wrong, but he can’t sort out what is happening. He feels like his thoughts are mired in mud, moving slowly. “What—“
The Crowley at the other end of the phone line snarled audibly. “How’s Alpha Centauri, then? Bet it was quite the trick to get the flat all the way out there, but it’s more your style than something closer like Mars.”
Crowley went cold, heart hammering madly. He stretched out his senses and felt the press of void and stars, around him. They were in the wrong places. Crowley was in the wrong place. And for lightyears and lightyears around him, there was no life. He was alone. It was just him, and the sound of his own voice on the other end of the phone. Aziraphale’s phone.
“I didn’t—“ Did he? Crowley can’t remember.
“You did,” the other Crowley tells him flatly. “And you kept your word, didn’t you? You haven’t even thought about him. ”
It had been a lie, words said in pain, in order to cause pain in return. Now Aziraphale was all Crowley could think of. “No! Please. Aziraphale…”
Crowley isn’t sure who he’s pleading with: his own voice for damning him, the angel who had stolen his breath and heart on a wall in Eden, 6000 years ago, or the gaping raw wound in the firmament of the universe where Earth used to be.
“You want me to put Aziraphale on the line?” Crowley’s voice is cool and hard-edged on the other end of the line. “Well, I’m not sure he’s up to saying much, but if you insist…”
Fire has a sound. This was a low continuous roar, the sound of a fire out of control, consuming everything in its path, sucking the oxygen from the air to fuel it to greater and more devouring heights. It filled Crowley’s ears, audible even on the other end of the phone line.
“No, no, no, no,” Crowley’s voice dissolves into a low moan of pain and disbelief. “Angel, no.”
“Wake up! It’s over. You did this. You gave up. You promised you’d always be there to save him from whatever trouble he wound up in, and you failed.”
Crowley’s knees hit the concrete floor in his office. He stares at the stain that used to be Ligur. No, that wasn’t right, was it? There hadn’t been a stain when they got back to the flat, because Adam had—
Crowley woke up.
He’s on the floor of his bedroom, tangled up in his black sheets, his limbs sprawled at awkward angles. He’s gasping for air, throat raw from screaming, and he can feel that his face is wet. His wings are out, and trying to mantle, feathers fluffed out. Crowley runs a shaky hand over his face, sniffling, before forcing himself to his feet and heading for his office at a flat run.
The phone is circa 1990, blocky and plastic. Crowley picks it up, and dials a number that he knows better than he knows his own.
Aziraphale answers after the second ring. “A. Z. Fell and Co. I’m afraid we’re very definitely closed for the night.”
Aziraphale’s voice is the best thing Crowley has ever heard.
“Angel.” Crowley doesn’t really know what his own voice, raw and strained, sounds like to Aziraphale, on the other end of the line, but it must be alarming.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale’s voice is tense with concern. “My dear, are you all right?”
Crowley looks around his too-quiet flat, and feels as though the concrete walls are drawing inward, trapping him. His heart is still beating too fast, the useless thing. “I’m fine,” he manages. He isn’t. He’s crying again, Aziraphale’s voice drawing the tears out of him like poison. Aziraphale is saying something on the other end of the line, but Crowley can’t focus. It’s very hard to breathe. “I’ll come over to yours,” Crowley says, cutting the angel’s words short. There is too much distance between them. Any distance at all seems like too much, right now.
Crowley lets himself fall, tumbling heedlessly between electrons, following the connection and Aziraphale’s voice, until he is tumbling free of the rotary-dial phone, tripping over a stack of crumbling vellum and parchment.
Aziraphale catches him, and Crowley’s hands twist urgently to cling to the worn velvet of Aziraphale’s waistcoat. Crowley knows his grip is too tight, but can’t make himself let go.
“Crowley, what’s wrong? Are—“ Crowley cuts him off mid-word, kissing him. Aziraphale’s face is solid and familiar under his hands, and he tastes like nothing but himself. Aziraphale kisses him back, and it gentles between them as the fear and urgency begin to fade. Crowley pulls back just long enough to bury his face in Aziraphale’s shoulder, breathing in the familiar tea-dust-paper scent of the angel.
“Breathe in with me,” Aziraphale is saying, and Crowley can feel Aziraphale’s chest expand on the inhale. “Out.” Crowley exhales shakily. “In, out.”
The room has stopped spinning, Aziraphale anchoring him to the earth like gravity. Crowley breathes. The earth is solid under his feet, and Aziraphale is whole and safe in his arms. Safe, but worried for Crowley. Crowley feels a desperate rush of heart-clenching love. “I’m okay now,” he tells Aziraphale. “Had another nightmare. Lost Earth. Lost you. Lost everything.”
Aziraphale’s arms tighten around Crowley. “I’m right here,” he promises. “I’m right here with you. I’ve got you, dearest.”
Crowley’s nose is pressed into Aziraphale’s clavicle. He doesn’t want to move ever. “I know I was going to take you to dinner tomorrow,” Crowley murmurs, “but I—that is, if you don’t mind—Could I stay with you? I’m not going to be able to fall asleep in my flat again, after that.” Crowley swallows, and then continues. “We could watch the sunrise together, and then get breakfast at that cafe you like?”
“Oh, yes.” Crowley can feel the press of Aziraphale’s lips against his hair. “Yes, that sounds absolutely lovely.”