Crowley stands huddled on the gravelly shoreline, eyes fixed on the clouds, dark and full, marching closer over the sea. A storm is coming. He’s motionless even as the tide washes in, flooding his snakeskin shoes, the hem of his jeans, his ankles. The wave pauses at its apex, drags back down the beach. Beating the rocks smooth, crumbling boulders into pebbles into sand, carving canyons in this little inlet. A thousand years of solidity, dissolved into oblivion, swept out to sea, lost in the undertow.
The dawn had brought warm light streaming through their bedroom window, pink and orange and red. But the last dredges of color have long since faded from the sky, where they had clung like leaves in the bottom of a teacup. An augury, inscrutable and foreboding. The sunrise sits uncomfortably high in Crowley’s stomach, heavy, damp clouds compressing his breath.
Aziraphale likes loose-leaf teas. Aziraphale likes to watch the sun smite the sky. Aziraphale likes storms, likes to listen to the rain from the window seat Crowley had built for him. He had spent an afternoon cursing and ineffectively wielding a screwdriver while Aziraphale had read pointedly from the instruction manual and handed him the labelled pieces.
Storms make Crowley nervous. He paces around their library, intermittently scowling at the garden or arranging himself uncomfortably onto one of Aziraphale’s wingback chairs, watching him calmly read. He flinches at the thunder, tries to bite it back, doesn’t want Aziraphale to see him pathetic and weak. Crowley’s plants bend in the storm, are submerged by the water rushing down the slope, lose leaves and petals, bear roots to the world when the soil erodes. Crowley goes to them the next day, stomping around in his big hat and his big boots. Breathes deep as the sky clears.
They have survived storm seasons before. Had taken refuge in the innermost room. Aziraphale herding him and the erstwhile stray cat and the most sensitive plants and books into the bathroom. The items most sensitive to humidity and temperature, jockeying for space in the bathtub. The two of them had crouched under the lintel, too many knees, laughing at the flickering electricity as the house shook. An afternoon without power, Aziraphale cheerfully lighting candles, excited by the prospect of reliving the old days. Crowley’s breath had caught in his throat as Aziraphale shook the match out, flames licking upwards toward his fingers. Staring at that red blur of phosphorous, fumbling for his sunglasses.
Aziraphale had noticed when Crowley dropped the sunglasses from his shaking hands, had hurried to snuff out the candles. Crowley had replayed his face falling over and over, choking back his frustration with himself, even as Aziraphale had apologized and fussed over him and held him close.
The somber mass of clouds gathering above him portends a terrible storm. It is too early in the season, they aren’t prepared for it.
The screen door screeches. “Crowley?” Aziraphale calls. He’s standing in the doorway, propping the screen open with his hip, wiping his hands on their blue and white checkered towel, a holdover from the bookshop. Crowley had promised to get WD-40 for the door, new dish towels in a matching set. He never had. So many things he’d never done for Aziraphale. They’d never gone to the new Thai restaurant in town, or found a perfect picnic spot, or gone stargazing. He hadn’t taken them to a community theater performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, complaining the entire drive, while Aziraphale patted his hand and didn’t believe a word. They’d just settled. Here in their little windswept house. He wonders if that’s what Aziraphale wants, the pace of their lives slowing to a crawl. If he wants a poorly sanded window seat and not enough bookshelves, if he wants every fencepost to be a minefield of splinters, if he wants electricity that turns tail at the first gust of wind. If he wants this house, with its unweedable garden and creaking staircase and leaky sink, with Crowley, his sneering scowling countenance.
The storm is coming. Crowley cannot stop it, no more than he can stop the tide. Wearing the rocks down to nothingness.
“Crowley?” The gate creaks as Aziraphale pushes it open with his palm, not using the handle. Crowley had promised he’d clean the rust off the iron. Aziraphale is still holding the towel as he lays one hand lightly on Crowley’s arm. “Come inside, love, it’s going to rain.”
Crowley wants to go to him, wants to prove to Aziraphale that he is more important than any storm, than any fear that Crowley wrestles with in his chest, rotating the teacup, trying to read the leaves right. He wants to tear his eyes away from the shoreline. The storm is coming. He’s afraid to look. He’s afraid to see disappointment apparent in Aziraphale’s features, in the pinch of his brows, the downturn of his mouth. Afraid to see that beautiful, beloved face falling once again, as Crowley cannot overcome the fear that dulls him down, erases him.
Another wave washes in, higher this time, spray splashing up to Crowley’s calves. He bites down a shiver. He feels the tension welling up in him, threatening to boil over. “I didn’t get firewood yet,” he says, pleading, apologetic. That had been their plan, in case the electricity went out. Crowley had insisted.
“That’s no matter. We’ll just snuggle up then.” Aziraphale moves closer to Crowley, presses a kiss into his hair. “Let’s go inside, dear, put the kettle on, get you warmed up.” Crowley can feel him turn away, the heat of his body replaced by the sting of the wind. He curls himself tighter, folds himself smaller against this great wrath. Aziraphale is going now, will give up on Crowley, will shake his head at him over his tea, at all his empty promises.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale remains, surprised that he isn’t following.
The storm breaks. The clouds open, spilling their burdens, the heaviness becoming unbearable. Crowley braces himself, waiting for the cold and the wet to pierce him. To wear him down into dust. The battering doesn’t come. Aziraphale unfurls a wing, shelters him.
“The back door’s open,” Crowley protests, still rigid. “The house will flood.”
“I don’t care about the house.” Aziraphale reaches for his hand, balled into a fist at his side. “I care about you, Crowley. I’m not leaving you out here alone.”
Aziraphale tugs lightly at Crowley’s sleeve, and Crowley finally shifts minutely towards him. Aziraphale’s face is not fallen. There is no coldness in it, no disappointment, no darkness. Only concern, and his love. A love so deep and so warm that it cannot be drowned out nor dampened nor chilled by the storm. Crowley tumbles into Aziraphale’s arms. Aziraphale catches him, guards him. The storm cannot touch him, the rains and the floods and the winds. Here in their home built on rock, an unweathering foundation, six thousand years of strata.