Story Notes:Written circa 2005.
“Ffft, ffft ffft,” said the plant mister.
It was Sunday morning, and Anthony J. Crowley was executing the bi-weekly tending of his gloriously beautiful and positively petrified houseplants (as in frightened, not fossilised).
“My, you’re all looking very lovely lately,” he said in a casual, conversational tone. “Nobody fancies getting taken out, hm? If you keep this up I don’t know what I’m going to do with you all. Perhaps I can just pick out whomever I’m tired of looking at and ram them down the garbage disposal. Sounds reasonable to me. I’m being very reasonable, don’t you think?”
Crowley finished misting the terrified geraniums on the window sill and moved to the large bowl of flourishing angel’s wings on the coffee table; he crouched down to brush aside the green and pink leaves and spray the roots.
“Hello, angel,” he murmured with a widening grin. “I suppose you’ll be enjoying my company for quite a long time if you keep putting out at this rate.” He chuckled to himself. “Really, you shouldn’t overexert yourself just to try and impress me. I can keep up with you better than you can me.”
He leaned down and exhaled his warm breath onto the verdant leaves. “You like that, don’t you? You want my carbon dioxide, I can ssee it in your trembling sstems. You need me. You can’t live without me. I am your masster, your giver, the one who keepss you alive.”
Crowley’s slender fingers stroked the leaves as he pressed his face within the green tangle of vegetation.
“Mm, I can ssmell your fear.” He inhaled deeply. “It ssmells sso good. Fear is besst when it’s fresh. You’re aware that I could kill you jusst as ssoon as quench your needs, aren’t you? Does that exssscite you? Does it, angel? Will you beg for mercy when I-”
“What the fuck are you doing down there, Crowley?” a perturbed voice interjected.
Crowley froze, his face still hidden within the leaves of the plant. He knew that voice. Very slowly and deliberately he turned his head to look out into the kitchen.
A man wearing a nice three-piece Italian suit was leaning against the counter. He had short, fair hair and a lean, hunched stature. He also had a large, bloody stain in the centre of his blazer.
“Caius Cassius*,” Crowley stated with a heavy sigh, rising to his feet. “Who did you have to blow to let you out this time?”
“Everyone,” Cassius muttered.
“No shit. You could probably do with a drink then, eh?”
“I was going to ask if you’ve got any holy water I could gargle but a scotch ought to do it.”
“Holy water? Who told you about any of that?” Crowley inquired, putting the plant mister on the kitchen counter and going for the whiskey cabinet.
“Only the entire Downstairs neighbourhood. And anyone within earshot of Hastur’s ranting.”
Crowley almost dropped the shot glasses when he heard the name. He set them down hastily and reached for the crystal decanter.
“What’s this about Hastur now? He still sore about that incident with Ligur- rocks?”
“Straight up, please, that’s fine,” said Cassius. “Sore? Hardly. He’s livid. Well, more than usual. You’d think that he’d lost his mother with the way he’s carrying on about it.”
“Hastur never had a mother.”
“I know, you twit. I was citing an example.”
Cassius tossed back his glass while Crowley stared down into his own.
“So what’s he saying about me?” he finally asked.
“Nothing really. More like screaming.”
“Quit being dodgy, would you?”
“Look,” said Cassius seriously, “I’m not kidding around. Hastur is bloody furious with you. All he talks about is you, Crowley. He’s obsessed.”
“Really? I never though I was his type.”
“I wouldn’t be joking if I were in your shoes. He’s sworn vengeance on you. The authorities are still pretending that the whole incident with Armageddon didn’t happen, and they haven’t even bothered to give Hastur a hearing. He’s given up on waiting for them to do something about you. Gone vigilante. He’s coming for you, Crowley.”
“Oh, come on.”
“I’m dead serious.”
“You’re already dead, Cass.”
“I’m deader than dead serious then. Listen,” the Conspirator leaned in conspiratorially, “if I were you I’d pack up and go on holiday for a few centuries. You wouldn’t want this bastard to know where you live, up here at least. He’s changed, mate. Gone completely spare. He’s Captain Fucking Ahab out on a whale hunt and you’re the Moby Dick he’s looking to skewer. STAB! Right in the blowhole.”
Crowley appeared as calmly nauseated as he could possibly be without being on a rolling ship. “Don’t ever use that sort of analogy ever again.”
Cassius poured another shot, drained it, and set the glass down. “Crowley, you’re going to be in some serious shit if Hastur gets a hold of you. Mark my words. I didn’t have to drop in like this but you did me a real favour with getting Brutus on my side and I figured I ought to at least pay you back somehow.”
“You came all this way for me, Cass?”
“No. I was on my way to Greece but I wanted to stop by first and see how you’re doing.”
“How kind of you.”
“Shut up. You’re a swell son of a bitch, Crowley. I’d hate to see you- …well, and then never see you again. You know what I mean.”
“I think so.”
“Good.” Cassius stood upright and straightened the lapels of his suit. “I’d better be off before they realise I’m missing. Was good seeing you again, Crowley. Keep your ass about you and your wits covered.”
Crowley saluted him. “Will do.”
The Roman turned round at the door. “Oh, and Crowley?”
“Stop having an affair with your houseplants and get yourself laid, would you?”
*Caius Cassius was the leader of the conspirators that was responsible for the murder of Julius Caesar. Crowley had helped him throughout the entire ordeal until at last the situation looked hopeless enough to where he told Cassius that he ought to just go ahead and kill himself now while the killing’s good. Cassius did, and ever since then he’s had an annoying flesh wound permanently branded through his torso. It ruined just about every single suit he wore, and there was no stain remover on the market powerful enough to cut through the stain of traitor’s blood. Or at least a Roman’s.
Crowley remained at his flat for a time, pondering the news from Down Below and slowly whittling away at the scotch until he was holding the empty decanter upside-down above his head and waiting ten minutes for the last drop to roll out onto his tongue.
It was only after this final step that total intoxication was achieved and the realisation of what was going on in his life truly hit him.
And Crowley went positively guano*.
He wasn’t thinking straight, and he didn’t think he wanted to, either. He paced frantically around his apartment for a while, running his hands through his hair repeatedly and slowly working himself into a paranoid mania with each passing moment.
He had to protect himself. If Hastur were coming for him –and Hastur was coming for him- he could be here at any second. He could burst right through Crowley’s door and then God (excuse him) only knows what would happen.
Crowley didn’t have any holy water. It wasn’t something he went out daily and got. It took a long time to get something like that. And Hastur would be expecting a holy water assault this time. He’d be prepared. He’d find a way around it. No, not holy water this time. Crowley had to think hard.
A crucifix? No. Hastur might be Jewish.
Garlic? …what was it about garlic?
No. Silver bullets.
Wait, that wasn’t it.
Fuck this. Hastur could be blazing his way down the street this very second. He could be stomping up the front steps. He could be barreling his way up the first floor. He could be-
At this point in Crowley’s bleary, inebriated mind, he did what any decent, upright man would have done: he grabbed the houseplant from off the coffee table and then tossed himself out the window.
Luckily the fire escape broke his fall. Somewhat. It broke Crowley more than it did his fall but it was nothing that really concerned him now. He clanged down the ladder and hobbled out to the curb where the Bentley was parked, strapped the houseplant into the passenger’s seat, climbed in, put on his shades, and was full speed behind.
It took about a hundred and fifty metres before he realised why the stoplights were getting smaller rather than larger and he quickly fixed this error (as quickly as one could with a broken arm) and peeled out.
“Dun worry, angel,” he said determinedly to the houseplant that was riding shotgun. “I know exactly what ‘m doing.”
Aziraphale opened the front door of his shop and stared.
Crowley was standing on his stoop with a plant tucked under his arm while his other arm hung at a very curious angle from the elbow. It was swinging limply like a dead branch. The angel could smell the whiskey on his breath, and he was standing a good two feet away.
“Why Anthony,” said Aziraphale blithely, “what brings your drunken, broken person to my humble and till-recently peaceful abode?”
Crowley tried to grab his friend’s collar but only succeeded in flopping his broken arm up onto his shoulder. “You got to help me, angel,” he uttered. “I dunno what ‘m doing.”
Aziraphale tsked. “Come in, you pitiful thing. We’ll get you taken care of. I was closed today but I suppose I could make an exception. I always seem to, in your case.”
He led Crowley into the shop and continued to fuss. “Look at you, walking round with your arm in that condition, completely intoxicated at this time of day. It’s still morning, and a Sunday for goodness’ sake! I don’t even want to know how many traffic laws you violated while en route here, so you’d better sober up before you even dare to ask anything of me, you brat.”
Crowley set the plant on the front counter and collapsed into a nearby chair. He closed his eyes, grimaced, and inhaled sharply. The angel waited patiently. A few seconds later a sober Crowley glanced up and readjusted his shades.
“Sorry,” he said, “what was I saying?”
Aziraphale sighed again. “You were babbling. Said you needed my help, that you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Are you going to fix that, or are you waiting for me to make a splint out of a chair leg?”
“Your left arm is broken, dear.”
“Woah. I don’t remember doing that,” Crowley muttered, reaching over and setting the joint back into place as easily as if his bones had been LEGO’s. He gave a few experimental flexes and twists just to be sure that everything was as it should be, and then stared up at Aziraphale.
“I said what again?”
“That you need my help and that you’re completely incompetent. The usual.”
“You give yourself way too much credit, you know.”
“Only because you let me.”
Aziraphale smiled cheekily and Crowley was just about to stand up and show him the precise extent of what he allowed the angel to get away with when suddenly he remembered the visit from Cassius, and everything came rushing back to him that the levee of his B.A.C. had been holding at bay.
The demon winced as if in extreme agony and slapped a hand to his forehead. “Oh shit. Fucking ay.”
“What is it? What’s wrong?” Aziraphale asked concernedly.
“Damn bloody fucking bleeding-”
He jumped out of the chair and began pacing.
“Crowley, what is wrong?” the angel demanded. “Why are you behaving so-”
Crowley stalked over to Aziraphale and took him firmly by the shoulders. “I can’t explain it to you right now. I just need to know where you keep your things.”
“Your holy things.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Work with me, angel!” Crowley shook him gently. “Your things! You know, your sacramental candles and your jars of lamb’s blood and your swinging brass incense lanterns and your magic chalk. You have magic chalk, don’t you? You know, the kind that you draw a circle round yourself and it protects you from evil?”
The angel stared at his companion as if he were speaking Welsh* and slowly shook his head.
Crowley let out a frustrated cry and darted to the windows, drawing the shades and darkening the interior of the shop. “Well that’s just brilliant,” he griped. “What the hell do you use to protect yourself from Evil when it comes knocking?”
“That depends upon whether or not Evil is drunk and knocking with a broken arm.”
“Don’t toy with me,” the demon said with desperation. “You honestly don’t have any sort of armaments?”
Aziraphale crossed his arms and glared. “Perhaps I do and perhaps I don’t. What’s it to you?”
“What do you want?”
“I already told you, I can’t explain it to you. It has nothing to do with you. It’s for your own good.”
“Who’s after you?” the angel inquired.
“Nobody,” Crowley lied. He had once been quite an accomplished liar and perfectly capable of fooling Aziraphale but after hundreds upon hundreds of years in his company the angel was now finely-tuned to his Truth-o-Metre. And it was currently pegging the red line.
“Who are you running from, then?”
“Nobody,” came the answer.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale was beginning to sound exasperated, “if you don’t stop beating about the bush then there’s no way you’re going to get a sniff of assistance from me.”
“Good. I don’t want you involved. I’ve already been stupid enough to run here of all places when I could be under surveillance. You may already be in danger.”
As touched as he was by Crowley’s concern for his safety, Aziraphale still wanted to know what was this fantastic fuss was all about.
“Are… They after you?” he asked softly.
“Who, Hell? No. Not Them. And no one’s after me. Listen, do you suppose that if I went out and picked up some chalk sticks that you could, I don’t know, bless them or something?”
“Not if you’re going to be tight-lipped about their use.”
“Call it an experiment.”
“This isn’t a game, Crowley! Messing around with holy objects is dangerous. You could get seriously injured or even killed.”
“It’s either one way or another,” he muttered under his breath.
“I utterly refuse. If you would just tell me what’s going on perhaps I could be of more assistance.”
“Nh. Not a good idea, angel. I’ve got a witch mad at me and you might get into trouble.”
“Seriously? Is that all? Well, I can take care of a silly witch. Just tell me what she’s-”
“No, no, no, no, no,” Crowley groaned. “Sheesh, haven’t you ever seen The Wizard of Oz?”
“No. What does he look like?”
“Forget it,” the demon sighed and trudged to the door. “I guess I’m just going to have to do this on my own. Thanks for nothing, Alice**. If you ever see me again in one piece, think better of me, won’t you?”
He opened the door with a musical ring but was stopped when Aziraphale said, “Wait. Crowley.”
He glanced over his shoulder and beheld the angel, pale eyes glowing in the dimness of the bookshop and an expression of true worry causing his face to appear pallid and taut. A moment of silence passed between them like a lingering breeze, and the gentle words were carried upon its wake: “Tell me. Just tell me and I can help you.”
“I won’t risk it,” Crowley answered. “There’s too much I could lose.”
The door closed behind him and a few moments later Aziraphale heard the familiar sound of the Bentley revving to life, then the equally familiar sound of its tyres screeching as it sped away down Charing Cross.
The angel sighed and had no choice but to return to his inventorying. Then he noticed the pot of angel’s wings sitting on the counter.
“Well, bless me,” he said. “It looks as if the tyrant has liberated one of his victims, hasn’t he? Come now, I have the perfect spot for you here in the window…”
*Angels know every language spoken on Earth save this one, which was why Crowley thought up Welsh language television just to spite Heaven. And Aziraphale, more particularly.
**Funny story behind this. Aziraphale had had a parcel delivered to his bookshop a few months ago when Crowley just happened to have dropped by to invite the angel to lunch. After Aziraphale had signed for the package, the delivery man inquired, “Mr. A Ziraphale, eh? Unusual name. What does the A stand for?”
But before Aziraphale could open his mouth, Crowley popped out from behind him with an ear-to-ear grin and said, “Alice.”
The delivery man had made a strange face, stumbled off the stoop, and driven away without another word. Ever since then it has become a private joke between the two, and Crowley especially liked using it whenever he was attempting to piss Aziraphale off. And most of the time it worked.