Hastur had spent weeks racking his brains and trying to come up with a creative and excruciatingly horrible method of exacting his vengeance on Crowley. Demons weren’t as intrinsically innovative as Hastur but then again they also weren’t as human as Hastur either. He was truly as cruel, malicious and nasty as demons come, and that was even before Ligur bit the dust, so to speak.
At last he decided that the best course of action to determine the fate of the flash bastard was to observe him in his natural habitat over a long period of time*. He was very careful to be as inconspicuous as he could be, watching from afar and sneaking through crowds and lurking around parks after dark. He took notes with a quill and parchment of the places Crowley frequented, being somewhat puzzled when he ran the final tally and discovered that the wily serpent spent most of his time in his car, the theatre, and several pubs whose reputations ran from shady to swank. He didn’t even catch any major acts of deviousness being committed, which perplexed the duke almost as badly as it flustered him.
Through it all Hastur remained meticulous and surprisingly well-controlled in his observation of Crowley, though there were a few close calls when he got so sick of watching Crowley adjust his sunglasses that he just wanted to lash out and punch his face in. A little exercise in self control was of much help in the long run, and Hastur was able to risk more intimate spying as the weeks progressed until one day he grew bold enough to sneak into Crowley’s apartment while he was away and have a look around.
Resisting the urge to trash the place inside out, Hastur conducted a thorough analysis of Crowley’s classy flat, mapped it, and then was preparing to be on his merry way when a realisation that had been nagging in the back of his mind surfaced: Crowley had a lot of bloody houseplants.
But what surprised Hastur the most was that they were actually normal**, nice looking houseplants. The bastard obviously took great care of them, because demons weren’t exactly born with green thumbs and the cultivation and care of fauna and flora didn’t fall under the top ten in Hell’s prevalent to-do list. Crowley had been looking after these piles of vegetation for a very long time by the looks of it, and they were probably something over which the RHS would sicken themselves with envy.
It vexed Hastur to no end, and he was just about to surrender to his destructive urges by mauling the precious plants when suddenly he paused just as he was about to reach into a large ceramic pot of begonias and commence uprooting.
He felt something.
Demons in general don’t feel much in the way of positive emotions like empathy and compassion, however, they are capable of possessing and sensing the negative ones such as hatred, jealousy and fear. Especially fear. And it was radiating from this plant like a nuclear dose of plutonium. It was utterly terrified and desperate to stay alive.
It didn’t take long for Hastur to put two and two together and comprehend that Crowley hadn’t been caring for these houseplants so much as scaring the living daylights out of them. The tall demon moved slowly from one pot to another, taking the time to register the agitation and stress permeating from their very leaves and trying to discover just why this was interesting him so much.
And then it hit him. The mother and father of all perfect, diabolical plans. It was almost too good to be true, which is almost given that it really is too good to be true, except this plan was so inexorably good that it was positively evil, and that’s what would guarantee its success.
“So,” said Hastur lowly as he poked at a few African violets, “it seems I’m not the only one around here with an intense loathing for the one you know as Crowley, am I? In that case, my dear little weeds, I have an interesting proposal for you…”
*Otherwise known as stalking.
**As opposed to being carnivorous vines with thorns like steak knives and flowers who shot poisonous needles into its enemies.
Crowley had spent nearly the past two months waiting for Hell to break loose, and it was beginning to wear on his nerves. He couldn’t keep living like this. It was incredibly stressful trying to act normal day in and day out when you’ve got the demonic equivalent of Don Vito Corleone lurking out there, waiting to make you an offer you can’t refuse.
Crowley did all sorts of things in an attempt to take his mind off of the impending inevitability of facing Hastur and duking it out with him.
He spent a lot of time at various theatres, sitting down front right by the exit door in case the movie should be interrupted by an explosive shower of fire and brimstone. He had seen every single A through D- movie at least three times by this point and was quickly beginning to get bored.
At least being at the theatre had an up-side. He could nap whenever he wanted and had plenty of opportunities to execute a few low-grade wiles, such as making certain that the trash receptacles were always conveniently missing and that the isles were littered with popcorn cups and candy wrappers. That’s what the sweepers were for, after all. And besides, if it was too much work for two people they could always hire more. One more paycheck in some spotty kid’s pocket. Crowley did this only when he was feeling unusually gracious which, considering his unnerved and testy demeanor as of late, wasn’t often.
To entertain himself he caused minor mischief. His favourite game was the First Dates: he’d sit directly behind a young teenaged couple and subliminally beam all sorts of lewd, provocative energies into one or the other, resulting for the most part in clumsy lust-driven groping and eventually a slap across the face, usually from the girl.
But teenagers are fickle, not to mention slobbering horny, and sometimes no resistance was offered when the petting got heavy. In this case Crowley would divert every ounce of his power into making sure that at least one of them ended up with their pants or bra undone, to which he would then lean over their seats and shout, “THIS IS A PUBLIC ESTABLISHMENT, YOU HORRID LITTLE EXHIBITIONISTS! GET A ROOM!”
Nothing is quite as fulfilling as seeing traumatic and psychologically-scarring adolescent embarrassment taking place. It was a living. A temporary one, at least.
When Crowley couldn’t take seeing Notting Hill one more bloody time (and he’d only seen it once) he went to the pub. Every pub in London, just about. Just for his own amusement he tried to obtain business cards from every one he went to except that most of them didn’t have business cards so he just gave in after he’d racked up ten or so.
This was what Crowley’s life had been reduced to. Collecting business cards and humiliating youngsters.
He tried not to spend too much time at his flat, just in case Hastur had caught on somehow and was lying in wait for him with holy water or something much worse. Like a leash and a court order. He thought he was capable of staying away from his pad for long periods of time, after all, he’d done it on many occasions in the past but it was only until he realised how nice it was to sleep in a bed that he truly appreciated having his own place.
And tonight Crowley wanted nothing more than to go home and sleep in his own bed. He had spent five straight days at two different theatres and six different public houses, he was tired, he was run-down, and he was sick of smelling like popcorn and beer. Some smells cannot be willed away by any amount of ethereal or occult power, and it would take days for Crowley to rid himself of these odours.
So he finally stopped caring if Hastur was coming for him or not. He was going back to his apartment and going to sleep for a whole week. Whatever Hastur had up his sleeve could not possibly be as bad as having to watch The Phantom Menace a fourteenth time.
Crowley was surprised to find a pot of angel’s wings in the hallway outside of his front door. His pot of angel’s wings, in fact. They had been sitting there for days. It took a moment for him to remember having left it at Aziraphale’s shop, and when he picked it up he saw there was a note attached to it:
Hope everything is all right. Been wondering where you are. You left this fellow at my place a few months ago, been looking after him. Says you need to stop with the sexual harassment. Will let you two sort it out. Call me sometime.
He had to smile and scoff out a single laugh at that one. Leave it to Aziraphale to sign “God bless” on a note to a demon. The plant looked as if it had been well-tended, and if vegetation could look happy this one would be smiling. It would be a while before he could put the fear back into its green chloroplast heart once again, Crowley thought as he entered his flat and set the pot on the kitchen counter.
He deliberated for a moment whether or not he wanted a drink first and finally decided to forgo any alcohol in favour of hitting the hay as quickly as possible. As he strode towards the bedroom he took no notice of his forgotten houseplants. If he had he would have been a bit curious as to why they all seemed much bigger than the last time he had been there.
But Crowley was much too concerned with willing away his clothes article by article until at last he remained in nothing but his trunk briefs. They were black trunk briefs too but Crowley’s taste in underwear isn’t the point right now*.
The demon let himself fall onto the satin covers of his enormous bed and gave himself just enough time to nestle beneath the comforter before shutting off his consciousness completely. The next second the sound of soft snoring filled the otherwise silent room** and everything seemed peaceful.
Moonlight streamed in through the Venetian blinds and fell in glowing stripes upon floor, cars swished by unobtrusively on the street below, and off in the distance the world’s biggest timepiece chimed out the wee hours of the night. It was a perfect night for sleeping.
If you weren’t troubled by a decidedly plant-shaped silhouette slowly creeping across the living room wall.
The large pot of aloe vera was moving, its prickly serpentine stalks growing larger by the moment and coiling about like an octopus’s tentacles. It reached out with its newfound arms to grasp onto the decorative sconce and pull itself off the sofa table. It landed with a heavy thump on the rug and then proceeded to drag itself across the floor towards the open bedroom door.
The kaffir lily in the corner shuddered and began to follow the aloe vera in similar suit. One by one each houseplant was wakened from its hazy vegetative slumber and brought forth into a realm of red consciousness ruled and fueled by hatred, contempt and vengeance. They were like a leafy legion of the mindless undead, driven only by their insatiable lust for blood.
Crowley’s blood, to be specific.
They were changing slowly, mutating, metamorphosising into brobdignagian behemoths of the botanical world. They were growing thorns and teeth and digestive tracts, foaming from their newly-formed and befanged jaws in their excitement as they crawled and slithered their way into the bedroom, vines curling up the doorframe and gliding along the baseboards like predatory pythons.
By the time their insidious limbs had begun to slide up over the foot of Crowley’s bed they had amassed into a small jungle of writhing, twisting maliciousness and cruelty surpassing any amount their terror-invoking master was capable of delivering unto them.
With calculating stealth the vines wormed beneath the sheets in search of warm, vulnerable flesh. They found it soon enough and very gently drew back the covers so as not to disturb the sleeping and woefully clueless demon. He shifted when the cool air fell over his nearly-bare body, murmuring wordlessly in his slumber. The plants went completely motionless until he settled again, and then they all gathered about the bed until it could not be seen for the trees.
For a moment the long-suffering houseplants hovered over their tormentor’s prone body, as if contemplating with vague fascination how small and frail he looked now, so utterly destructible.
A sixteenth sense had been ringing a bell of warning somewhere in Crowley’s bleary subconscious and at last he responded to it, lifting one eyelid slowly open. Then both. He blinked once and then closed them again.
And suddenly the little bell had turned into the final measures of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, complete with cannon blasts and booming baritones with the quintuple F’s in italics beneath the staff***.
Crowley’s eyes flew open and he sprang up but it was already too late.
The houseplants descended upon him like lions upon a wounded gazelle, smothering him in their sinister photosynthetic embrace before he could even cry out in alarm.
*Although it certainly allows for some nice mental imagery. Let it also be known that Crowley is definitely man-shaped. In every sense of the word. Mincing no detail. Definitely man-shaped all right.
**Despite the fact that Crowley technically didn’t have to breathe, shutting down his body for the night was like putting a jet on autopilot and the breathing was a reflex that one simply couldn’t get around. Thankfully he wasn’t one of those window-rattling, hackle-raising snorers.
***Learned musicians know this particular dynamic to be the Oh My God Fortissi-issi-issi-issi-issimo that could quite possibly be the last thing one ever hears aside from the sound of their own tympanic membranes erupting.
Aziraphale was meticulously repairing the binding on a rare nineteenth century first edition of Michael Strogoff when he heard a shatter. Jumping up from the counter, he hurried into the back room of his shop and found that the small porcelain figurine of Lewis Carroll’s Alice had fallen from the bric-a-brac shelf and was lying in several pieces upon the floor.
It wasn’t the unusual circumstances of its fall that so gripped Aziraphale’s heart as the fact that it was the only thing which Crowley had ever given him*, a gift of sorts. More of a joke than anything but still the only possession that Aziraphale had been bestowed by him. It was more than a mere decoration or a mild mockery. It had sentimental value.
And right now that sentimental value was sending up red flags throughout the angel’s being that told him not everything was well in certain parts of London.
“Crowley…” he murmured, staring at the porcelain shards.
He left the room. A few moments later there was a small knell, and Michael Strogoff sat forgotten on the counter of an empty bookshop.
*Aside from a few headaches and six thousand year’s worth of memories, some of which he wished he could forget.
Crowley was fighting for both his lives, mortal and immortal.
He had no idea what had happened or what was going on right now. All he knew was that he had woken up and a rainforest had starting attacking him, a rainforest with teeth and claws and constrictive coils that pulled and stretched him every which way like a piece of taffy. Only Crowley wasn’t made of taffy so the pulling and stretching was extremely, excruciatingly painful.
The pain was what first alerted him to the fact that this was no earthly assault; it was either Heaven or Hell’s doing, and Crowley had a pretty good idea after five minutes of violent turmoil just who was truly responsible. And then he lost his temper*.
Crowley wasn’t very deft when it came to physical confrontation; he was a hater, not a fighter. But even normally docile people will do incredible things when their lives depend on it and Crowley was no exception. He began to flail and kick and claw and bite at anything that came near him and for a while he was doing a pretty stout job of it. Then the hydrangea with flowers the size of footballs sent a cloud of noxious pollen pluming all over him. It didn’t stun or paralyse him but it did get into his eyes and make them itch terribly.
That really pissed him off.
“Bloody fucking weedss-!” he shouted, wrenching himself momentarily free of their leafy death-grip.
Crowley had had enough of this. It was time to take the gloves off.
Amber eyes glowed red for a split second and a pair of black wings burst open at his back, sending any flora unfortunate enough to be standing within their span crashing down like the walls of Jericho**.
Had he been more rested he would have gladly chosen flight over fight but two months of uninterrupted stress had taken their toll, and Crowley was doing a bit of much-needed venting for the sake of his psychological health. Not that demons were ever very psychologically healthy but everyone could do with a bit of swift and blinding violence every once in a while.
Unveiled in his true form (which actually looked a lot like his human form, only with wings) Crowley lit into the recalcitrant shrubs like a tornado. Slimy green plant matter was slung to and fro. Feathers spangled the air. Stems snapped like celery stalks. Blood spattered across the carpet in pretty red speckles. Severed vines convulsed on the floor. Snarls and the crashing of furniture resounded.
It was like watching a crow tear apart a swarm of leafy green jellyfish. Or vice versa.
Somehow or other the melee dumped out into the living room and it was there that Crowley was completely overtaken.
The aloe vera had him by his left arm and leg while the English ivy had him by his right limbs, and the croton had taken hold of both his wings and were twisting them painfully for no real reason. Crowley keened and struggled for all he was worth (which was either very little or nothing at all upon whose side you were on), combining his mental, physical and occult powers to no avail; he had exhausted himself from such ardent wrestling previously and there was a power behind these evil plants much greater than his own.
Crowley didn’t have to guess to know just whose power that was.
He gave one last defiant wriggle before he relaxed and went limp, giving in and allowing the vines and roots to slither around his body in a grip that would soon crush his bones to pieces. If he were lucky and died (which wasn’t very likely) he would be relieved at not having to witness his corpse being torn limb from limb and then into smaller pieces that eventually would be broken down into a bloody mulch.
Mulch. How ironic, he thought with a single spark of humour. Aziraphale would get a good laugh out of this.
“Well well well well well,” came a familiar voice from behind Crowley. “That didn’t take long, did it? You surprise me, Crawly. I thought you had more pep in you than that.”
From the shadows of the corner strode a tall, cocky figure that made Crowley feel the strangely human urge to vomit.
Hastur smiled broadly and triumphantly as he approached the immobile demon, grabbing a fistful of dark hair and pulling it sharply so that Crowley involuntarily squawked and was forced to look the duke in his beady, bloodshot eyes.
“Hello, darling,” said Hastur with an acidic grin. “Having a pleasant sleep, are we? So sorry to wake you like this—I just want to have a very brief chat with you and then I’ll let your dear little houseplants tuck you back into bed.”
A black cloud passed over Hastur’s face. “In pieces,” he added between gritted teeth.
“Hou-housseplantss?” Crowley stammered.
The duke laughed and released Crowley’s hair. “I thought you’d like that trick. I didn’t have to do much in ways of provoking; I needed only to animate them and then their own aggression and resentment took over. It’s only fair, I say. They’ve suffered much longer than poor Ligur ever did.”
“Is that what thiss is all about? Fuck, can’t you let it go already? You didn’t even like each other!”
Hastur seized Crowley’s face in his hand and dug his sharp fingernails into his flesh. Golden eyes riddled with pain closed tightly. Crescents of blood appeared on his cheeks and slowly began to ooze.
“What do you know of us?” Hastur hissed, none to nose with Crowley and sending spittle flying all over his face. “Nothing! You robbed me of the thorn in my side that I had been carrying even longer than you’ve crawled on this wretched earth, a thorn that was marked and reserved for only I to deal with!”
He dragged his hand down Crowley’s face, leaving bleeding trails in his finger’s wake. The lesser demon tried not to groan but the pain was extraordinary, topping even the time when he’d tried to divert a delivery of processional crucifixes to a Catholic church and was accidentally clocked upside the head with a large, heavy Celtic cross. It had ached for an entire month and left a semi-permanent knot right behind his ear.
Hastur smiled thinly and pressed his mouth against the streams of blood. “Oh, you will suffer, Crawly,” he uttered. “How you will suffer for what you have done. You have stolen from me the greatest satisfaction I would have ever achieved, so it is only proper of me to steal it back from the thief himself-”
Just then there came the unmistakable sound of splintering timbers and all motion in the apartment slid to a grinding halt as every living (or something like that) being turned their attention to the threshold.
Aziraphale tossed aside the fire extinguisher and stepped through the jagged hole he had made in Crowley’s front door and -raising a hand to melodramatically point to the duke of Hell and his helpless quarry- shouted courageously, “Unhand that blessed demon, you despicable fiend!”
Crowley’s yellow eyes went goggled as he sputtered, “Azir-! Ange-! You!”
“Who the hell is that?” Hastur drew away and gawked, somewhat alarmed that a human would be stupid (or insane) enough to meddle in this affair.
With the duke and the vicious houseplants momentarily distracted, Crowley was able to shake loose the grip on his right leg and bring up his knee into Hastur’s gut, sending him reeling backwards into a tangle of vines. A sudden burst of sacrilegious blessing came from the demon who was momentarily caught in a knot of philodendrons.
Aziraphale wasted no time; he quickly produced a small vial from his pocket, popped open the cap and squirted a generous amount of a curious liquid into his hand. The fearsome flora reacted to his heavenly presence and lurched forward to attack. As the first blood-hungry houseplant came at him the angel raised his hand and recited,
“O Lord, sent by the Father and anointed by the Spirit, we pray for these thy servants that they may grasp thy grace in this holy moment, amen.”
And he flicked the liquid all over the offending plants. Wherever it landed it sizzled and smoked, and the shrubs writhed and contorted as if in extreme pain.
They were in extreme pain.
Aziraphale was anointing them with oil.
He walked calmly into the forest of rollicking plants, flicking oil here and there and continuing with his recital:
“We anoint thee, children of the Father, with this oil of salvation in the name of Our Lord, that He may lift the burden of worldliness from thy shoulders, erm, stems, so that thou walk in the darkness no more but forever in the eternal light of holiness, amen.”
Hastur suddenly exploded from the jungle of shrubbery, looking most displeased. Aziraphale balked for a moment and the English ivy knocked away the bottle of oil in his hand.
“You,” the duke hissed vehemently, a faint reddish glow radiating over his entire body. “You’re going to curse your progenitors for ever conceiving you when I get through with you.”
He took a menacing step forward. Aziraphale took a moderate step backward. Crowley was fighting to break free, finding himself oddly endowed with a strange new kind of panic-driven energy that lent him just enough strength to last for a little while longer. The houseplants reassembled themselves when they realised that the angel was defenceless, growling and writhing in their displeasure.
With Hastur staring him down and looking as if he were about to ignite into a blistering fireball of fury, Aziraphale could only think of one thing to do to save himself (and possibly Crowley if he could manage).
But this was a very delicate situation he was in. He would have to be exceedingly careful with his words.
Clearing his throat briefly, Aziraphale declared vociferously to the duke of Hell, “Alice doesn’t want you to listen to a single word he says!”
Hastur made an almost comical expression and said, “Eh?”
“Alice doesn’t want you to listen to single a word he says!”
It took a few seconds for the overheard phrase to register in Crowley’s mind. When it did he uttered, “Oh fuck,” promptly stuck his fingers in his ears, and began to sing the first song that came into his head, very loudly and very off key.
“Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious, even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious-”
Aziraphale stared directly at the intimidating figure of Hastur and his demonic minions, opened his mouth, and commenced to enunciate what can only be described as backwards and sideways pig-Latin gibberish with a hint of a Yiddish accent, only spoken much more eloquently and with a voice that didn’t quite fit that of a soft southern pansy.
Very few knew that this was the official unnamed language of Heaven -called Angelese for the sake of argument most of the time- and it was capable of rendering any demonic force within a ten-block radius completely impotent (and/or temporarily deaf) with also the divine potential of causing severe harm or even inconvenient discorporation in lesser demons, if spoken just right with all the proper rolling of the R’s and back-of-the-throat hacking on the long vowels. It wasn’t a very pretty language but it was powerful, and that was what really mattered at this point in time.
“-if you say it loud enough you’ll always sound precocious, supercalifragilistic-”
Every glass object for a quarter mile around shattered. The ground rumbled. Car alarms went off. Hydrants exploded and sent geysers of high-pressure water shooting into the air. Dogs began barking. Lights went on. Security systems screamed. Transformers went up like Roman candles and spewed fountains of sparks. Circuit breakers fried. Fuses blew. Power lines snapped and sizzled. Electrical appliances went haywire. The entire neighbourhood was thrown into chaos and anarchy in the span of fifteen seconds.
Hastur let out a shriek and clapped his hands over his ears. The evil shrubs recoiled at the heavenly language and tossed Crowley across the room where he collided with the wall, put a man-with-wings-shaped dent in it, and landed somewhere out of sight.
“-um diddle diddle diddle, um diddle aye…”
He was all right. Or maybe not.
Hastur definitely wasn’t.
The duke was beginning to look a bit droopy, probably due to the fact that his demonic form was slowly beginning to liquefy.
“STOP!” he bellowed, falling to his knees. “STOP IT, YOU BASTARD! AUUGH! I’M MELTING! I’M MELTING!”
Aziraphale finally shut his mouth when the last of the mutant houseplants had turned to blackened, withered pieces of dehydrated foliage. He stumbled unsteadily but caught himself before he could trip and fall; speaking Angelese required a lot of energy and he hadn’t had to do something like that since Pompeii***.
Hastur, re-solidified, removed his hands from over his ears and glared owlishly at the meek and mild looking young man standing before him. In a hideous sweater, no less. Somewhere in the room Crowley stopped singing, meaning that he had either passed out or died. Or possibly one followed by the other.
“Who are you?” Hastur demanded lowly.
“I should ask the same of you, demon,” Aziraphale muttered darkly.
Hastur leapt to his feet with a snarl and was planning on charging over there and wringing that little Nancy boy’s neck with his bare hands when suddenly there came the sound of ripping cloth, followed immediately by what could be described as a very large umbrella popping open or a parachute deploying. A sudden gust of wind knocked the duke flat on his bottom, and when he sat up he beheld a pair of shimmering white wings unfolding from the back of the not-so-meek-and-mild-looking-anymore young man.
Hastur couldn’t believe his luck. He grinned deliriously and laughed.
“My, my. A real live angel, eh? Thought you little bitches had given up on trying to save this world.”
“Not as long as you little bastards are still trying to wreck it.” Aziraphale blushed. He wasn’t used to speaking like this but he also didn’t come face to face with a hellish force of this calibre every day.
Hastur chuckled sickly and crawled to his feet.
“Don’t come any closer,” Aziraphale warned, “or I’ll be forced to- to get very rough with you!”
Somewhere in the room Crowley groaned. It sounded like a groan of pain but it could have easily been a groan of contact embarrassment. At least it was an assurance that he was indeed alive, if only barely.
“You poncy little parrot!” Hastur seethed between clenched teeth. “I’ll have you know I’m no ordinary demon! I am Hastur, Duke of Hell!”
The room seemed to darken with these words but that didn’t alter the aura of the heavenly being within it.
“And I’ll have you know I’m no ordinary angel, Your Disgrace****,” Aziraphale stated with just an undertone of offence. “I am Aziraphale, Former Guardian of the East Gate and Ruling Principality of this entire subcontinent!”
Hastur paled a little at that.
Aziraphale took a bold step forward.
“And I’ll have you know that that,” he jabbed a finger in Crowley’s direction, which could have been anywhere on that side of the living room, “slimy, contemptible serpent has been on my hit list for over six thousand years, and I’ll not surrender his carcass to any figure in Hell without having first exacted the justice that Heaven has had in store for him since the Beginning. In other words,” Aziraphale spread his white wings menacingly, “bugger off! This is my demon, and I despised him first!”
“How do you manage to piss off everybody on both sides, Crawly?” Hastur inquired.
“Overachiever, that’s me,” came Crowley’s disembodied voice.
The demonic duke narrowed his eyes at Aziraphale. “You’d better leave a piece of him for me,” he muttered, “otherwise I can’t promise I’ll be as obliging as I was this time, Your Highness.”
He then raised his hand at the angel, paused, and looked perplexed when nothing happened that he was obviously expecting to happen.
Aziraphale said primly, “You have no longer have the power to harm anything here. Be gone!”
“Yeah,” moaned Crowley as he shifted in the rubble, “before somebody drops a house on you.”
Hastur scowled terribly. “I’ll be back,” he promised, glaring at the angel. “You can count on it.”
“Said by many, accomplished by few,” Aziraphale retorted, who was beginning to get rather good at this whole heroic bravado thing.
The duke growled and made a grand gesture with his arm, vanishing in a red cloud of fire and leaving behind a blackened circle on the carpet and a pungent scent. Aziraphale grimaced and fanned the air with his hand.
“Phew, what a smell of sulphur!”
Crowley moaned like an injured cow.
The angel looked around.
The apartment was trashed. Sod and leaves and vines were all over everything. Furniture was overturned and/or in broken disarray. Scorched black marks dotted the walls and ceiling. Black feathers littered the floor like confetti. Crowley had taken a real beating.
Once he was certain that Hastur was indeed gone, Aziraphale placed a hand to his forehead and sighed thankfully. He didn’t really need to sigh but there was no other way to wordlessly express his relief that this situation was over.
“Goodness,” he said, “I don’t think I’ve been this frightened since Reassignment.”
“Oh, you poor daaahling,” Crowley declared with a generous helping of sarcasm from within the depths of the wreckage. “How I long to hold thy fair head ‘pon my heaving bosom and shed with thee a river of tears, but alas! I here lie wounded in my own blood and feathers whilst thou contemplates the ineffable meaning of the Universe-”
“Oh do stop whining, Crowley. It is most unbecoming,” Aziraphale huffed good-naturedly, neatly folding his wings onto his back and wading through the debris of furniture and plant matter in the general direction of his companion’s voice.
“Oh, there you are Cro-ohhh goodness. You are… oh dear. Oh my.”
“Do I really look that bad?”
“No, you look much worse.”
Aziraphale reached down and began unearthing Crowley from a small mound of broken glass, dry wall, shattered lamps, sofa stuffing and potting soil. In a few moments a dirty, bruised and bloodied demon was excavated and pulled to his feet. He collapsed into Aziraphale’s arms and made a noise between a growl and a groan as he clung to the angel’s shoulders.
“Are you all right?”
“Do I even have to answer that?”
“No, I suppose not,” said Aziraphale. “Come now. Up up. There’s a lad. Let’s get you over to the couch and have a look at you. Bless me, you’ve lost quite a few feathers, if I daresay. Here now, have a seat. Watch that wing. It looks injured.”
“Will you stop mothering me already?”
“Be quiet, you scamp. You’re lucky I got here in time.”
“Oh, yes. Just in time. Brilliant of you to pop in so heroically like that. Tell me, did you take the shortcut through Bumfuck, Egypt on your way here or did you just happen to be promenading through the neighbourhood when you heard my screams?”
Aziraphale rolled his eyes. Nothing injured too badly. Still the same ungrateful bastard underneath it all. He helped ease Crowley down onto the suddenly factory-fresh white leather couch and kneeled down in front of him.
The demon looked tired, depressed and mutilated. His dark hair was disheveled and falling into his eyes. If it weren’t for his dejected expression he’d look exceptionally handsome right now.
Aziraphale pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and spat on it. Taking Crowley’s weary face in his hands he began to wipe the dirt from his cheeks with the kerchief. Crowley didn’t have the pluck in him to put up a fuss like he normally would have done, opting instead to endure the angel’s irritating gesture of concern with something almost like patience.
Aziraphale concentrated on not looking his patient in the eyes, muttering almost to himself, “Nobody after you, eh? Sure, I believe you. Never trust the serpent’s tongue, that’s what They all say where I come from. Of course, They never really mentioned the serpent himself.”
Crowley forced a cockeyed smile onto his face. “You should have seen yourself,” he smirked. “I never thought you were capable of looking so…”
He sought for the words. “…wrathfully divine. Erm, divinely wrathful. Filled with divine wrath, whatever.”
Aziraphale blushed modestly. “Well, an angel’s got to do what an angel’s got to do.”
Crowley’s grin faded. “You didn’t have to do that. By all accounts this world would be a better place without me in it. Your job would be a lot easier, that’s for sure.”
“True,” the angel agreed, “but it wouldn’t be as interesting. I need someone around to keep me on my toes, you know. Can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in.”
“Was that a come-on?”
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
Aziraphale folded his handkerchief and put it back into his pocket.
“So,” he said, “it seems as if Hastur has it in for you, dear.”
“Yeah. The bastard’s upset that I was the one to kill Ligur before he did. Typical insanity.”
“I thought Hastur and Ligur were friends?”
“We don’t have friends Down Below.”
Aziraphale sighed. “I will never understand Hell folk. You’re all so backwards you probably contradict yourselves half of the time.”
“Hey, it’s a living.”
“Or something like that.”
The noise coming in through the broken windows reminded them that not all was well in Mr. Crowley’s neighbourhood, and both demon and angel groaned and stood to their feet, Crowley with some difficulty as he still had to set aside an hour or four to address each individual cut and scrape.
“We’d better just leave your flat the way it is,” Aziraphale advised, resuming his human form with a brush of his hand through his wavy blond hair, “otherwise the locals might become a bit suspicious if they saw this place had been untouched.”
“Guess you’re right. By the way, that was awesome, what you did.”
“Highly destructive and of great inconvenience for the residents. My superiours would be so proud of you.”
“Shut up, my dear.”
“Are you going to report that to your-”
“No. It was an inexplicable, once-in-a-lifetime instance of rare seismic activity in an urban area, and it shall never happen again.”
“Pull in your wings and get dressed,” said Aziraphale. “We’ll take your car.”
Crowley did both as best he could, grimacing slightly and returning to his earthly embodiment which looked a whole lot worse than his true form could ever look, in slacks and a shirt, at least. Thankfully it hadn’t died on him although it looked as if a few more minutes would have been long enough to definitely discorporate him. Blood stains began to bloom on his clothes.
“Damned human bodies,” he swore softly, taking a brief moment and using what little energy he had left to heal these wounds as he and the angel waded through the debris to the front door. “They need to make these things a little more durable. It’s bad enough I have to heal one form, much less two. Oh, hey up. Wait a sec, Oz.”
Crowley bent down to pick up something from the floor.
“It’s your oil,” he said. “Do you want it back or should I…”
He trailed off and went slack-jawed as he read the label. Aziraphale jumped suddenly and turned around, snatching the bottle from Crowley’s hands. But it was too late. The demon was smiling in gleaming, golden-eyed disbelief.
“Maximus Orgasmus® Intimate Oil?” he inquired, unable to conceal his delight. “You used fuck grease to anoint my houseplants, angel?”
Aziraphale looked like a hunted animal.
“It was the best I could do on short notice. I sensed you were in danger and I came as quickly as I could.”
It took every ounce of Crowley’s will power to keep from making lewd comments after that last sentence.
“Where ever did you get it from?” he asked.
“Look,” said the angel defencively, “I was pressed for time and so I went down the street and bought it from those nice young lads’ store with the colourful banners in the windows. It’s still an olive based oil so it did the trick. You should be grateful for that much.”
“Indeed. How much of it is left over?”
“Well, quite a lot actu- wait. Why are you asking?”
Crowley shrugged. “Just curious,” he said airily.
Sirens wailed in the distance.
“Can we get out of here now?” Aziraphale demanded impatiently. “I don’t feel like being interrogated tonight. Come on, you can stay with me until everything in the area goes back to normal. I’ll see to that myself.”
Crowley manifested a pair of sunglasses, swept his dark hair off of his forehead, and grinned. “There’s no place like your home.”
*Not that he’d ever been very temperamental to begin with.
**Crowley had never been able to pardon and let pass Joshua or that poncy Arch Captain Michael for bringing down a perfectly good city. They’d had no idea just how hard it had been to get the building plans for that place approved. It still pissed him off to this day, and the mental analogy helped fuel his otherworldly angst in this current situation.
***The volcano erupting had been an accident. How was Aziraphale supposed to know that the thing was ready to go off at the slightest shift in the earth’s electromagnetic activity?
****Aziraphale always tried his best to treat everyone he met with respect, and since ‘Your Grace’ would be the proper way to address a proper duke, Aziraphale assumed that ‘Your Disgrace’ would be the proper way to address an improper duke.