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Anthophilia

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There's a lorry across the street. It's been there for some time, and it doesn't seem to have any intention of moving in the near future. The side of it reads "Charles and Son’s Moving" in bold, chipped blue letters, with a small illustration of some obscenely radiant mover grinning along side, and all the shameful apostrophe usage one might expect. The traffic on the thin cobbled street outside the shop continues to weave around it awkwardly, clogging up the already limited passage.

Crowley glares at the intrusive vehicle, eyeing it over the proud heads of his paphlopedilums, spritzing bottle waiting between his fingers. Seems strange, it's been there for over an hour without any sign of action or life to it. It's unusual that it's there at all, come to think of it. He hadn't known anyone was moving in. The shop it's waiting in front of has since he set up in the neighborhood, and that was almost a year ago now. Anathema had told him the last tenant had been some disowned Brazilian heiress who designed custom cat sweaters and had run off with the mail carrier to for a new life in Seattle. But he's never exactly sure how much embellishment she sprinkles over those stories.

He should ignore the lorry. It's useless to focus on it. If it looms at him for another hour he might, might call the police, but only if the beaming little man on the side continued to stare at him in that patronizing way.

Crowley turns back to the shop. It always looks it's best at this time of day, when the light is slanting in from the eastern end of the street. It had taken him three months to get the place in shape when he first came, but now, it was finally settling into itself.

It's small, but not cramped, clean, simple, just right for his needs. He'd lined the north wall with a tiered display of his succulents, arranged in driftwood and recycled containers. The south wall holds the orchids and mosses on geometric shelving of restored wood. The floor he'd replaced first off when he arrived, crinkled linoleum torn out for smooth poured concrete which didn't slip after waterings like wood or tile would. His cutting table, solid wood with steel legs, takes up one side of the floor, shears and wrappings neatly arranged. The fridges glow in the back behind the counter for storage. There's always plenty of space by the front garage-door windows and around the register for arrangements. At first he hadn't been sure if he could do it, sit in a shop all day and actually work like a proper human being, after the law firms and fish-bowl offices and all the rest of it. But it had settled over him in a shockingly comfortable way, and he didn't know now how he'd ever done anything else.

It's been a slow morning so far, which maybe is at least somewhat of an excuse for obsessing over the lorry. Summer has finally set in good and proper over the city, slipping down London's streets with all it's sultry, lazy confidence. It's warm enough that he's opened the garage-doors on the front of the shop, letting the day make it's way inside in gentle pushes and soft breathes. One of the things he loves about their street is the lack of that particular oozing, pungent summer Thames scent that seeps out with greater vigor in warmer weather. Today the breeze easing through the open windows is wonderfully pleasant, the heat slinks around the young foliage of the trees that line the sidewalk, pressing itself through the open door of the bakery five doors down, circling around the musty cobbles of the road, and finally settling in around him and the usual watery, floral scent of his shop, which today is fairly dominated by the fresh order of lilacs waiting to be arranged on the cutting table.

The lilacs are next on his list of morning tasks. He'd watered the orchids first thing, then circled round to the succulents and mosses. He'd changed the water in the arrangements waiting for pickup in the fridges, and popped a few in the windows before flipping the sign. There had been the register opening, and a few emails with an espresso, and now he's just has the second pass on the orchids to finish off. The lilac arrangements will be enjoyable, he's received excellent palette variety for the season. The purples were starting to fade in the park, but these are still strong, and the whites and pinks are lush and full. There's ten arrangements due for the new bistro over on Dover Street, and he'll have another five or six for in-shop display. They'll be good for three days at least and he'll easily sell them off by then. That is if anyone can actually manage to find their way in through the clotted vein of traffic surrounding that blood lorry.

The bell above the door gives a light ring. Crowley glances over and tries not to smile too quickly.

"Hullo," Crowley calls idly, finishing a few spritzes on the dendrobiums.

"Same to you," Lucius smiles cleanly. He's wearing a precisely cut Armani navy today, color just light enough to be seasonal, with a pale pink pocket-square peering from the left breast. His hair's brushed back neat and tidy, sides close and fashionably undercut, top long enough to have just the right height. His Gucci sunglasses cut a sharp line under his strong brows, the tortoise shell frames matching his oxford's laces.

"How are you?" Lucius asks.

"Alright," Crowley says, placing his spritzer neatly down on the cutting table, wiping his hands on his pristine and snugly tied apron. "Not a terrible day thus far."

Lucius moves a few steps deeper into the shop. Even a meter or so away from him Crowley can smell the sandalwood edge of his cologne.

"Lovely lilacs," Lucius observes.

"Oh," Crowley glances towards them. "Yes, they'll do nicely. Came in this morning. It's a strong selection."

"Any extras?" Lucius smiles. His teeth shine, brilliant and straight, tidy as his tightly cropped beard.

Crowley can't help smiling right back. "There might be. If you're lucky."

"Good," Lucius returns. "I'm feeling lucky."

Cheeky. Crowley narrows his eyes with a smirk. "Is that right?"

"Oh yes," Lucius answers, he leans back against the counter, running a finger along the smooth wooden top. "I've finally leased that bloody antique across the street."

And there it was. "That's why that damned lorry has been there all day?" Crowley almost shouts, suddenly crossing the floor quickly to glower at it again.

"That's right, someone's finally moving into the relic. They'll give the dust bunnies some company."

Crowley stares at the shop across the street. The whole building has always looked slightly askew to him, as it someone wrapped two massive hands around it and twisted ever so slightly. The black paint on the door and the shop-front has chipped to reveal an ugly abrasive green underneath, windows misted with dust and age. The truth is he's always rather liked the old thing. It's quiet, and yes, there is a creeping Dickensian strangeness to the place that wasn't exactly fashionable, but there was just something so very London about it. It looked as if it hadn't changed in four hundred years, as ageless as the cobbles on the street before it, and he rather enjoyed that edged romance.

"It's a shame that the owner wouldn't cough up for a full renovation," Lucius says behind him. "The street's come so far, and it would fetch twice the rent with some remodeling. But suppose it's beside the point now."

"Do you know what they plan to do with it?" Crowley asks.

"Books," Lucius answers. "Used."

"Interesting," Crowley hums.

"If you say so," Lucius shrugs. "Ah look, seems the lorry will be out of your way after all. Here they come." Lucius nods down the street. Crowley can see pedestrians but not exactly who he's indicating.

"Oh," Crowley peers, "do you know the name? Of the tenant I mean."

He hears Lucius step closer. "Forget it actually. It's something absurd. Can ask him yourself in just a tick, see."

He does see; there are three of them, heading their way. They're all smiling, seemingly talking pleasantly. Two of them seem to be the movers, jeans, work-shirts, and the other...

—The bathroom was close, and cramped. The door didn't lock, but in his hazy drunken state it seemed good enough to simply push a foot against it and hope for the best. There was sloppy laughter, soft and clumsy, but he wasn't sure if it was his or not. A hand slipped through his, infuriatingly innocent. Crowley turned, shifting his body into the space between with heat and presence. There was a catch of breath, and before he even knew what he was thinking, he was kissing him—

"Oh, fuck me." Crowley mumbles.

"Something wrong?" Lucius's voice asks, miles away.

Crowley doesn't hear hear him. He's too busy trying to convince himself that he doesn't recognize the frumpy pleasant-faced man stopping in front of the shop.

—His breath caught beautifully, mouth falling open easier than Crowley would have guessed was possible.—

The man across the street covered in knit and tweed smiles kindly at his companions, fumbling with the keys in his unworked hands. He focuses on the lock, nudging his glasses further up his nose with a single knuckle.

—The glasses caught between them, but he didn't care, he was too busy slipping hands up into the vexing, gorgeous wave of his hair.—

The man pushes a stray curl back in place and shoulders open the door, disappearing inside. The men follow him, and suddenly Crowley realizes Lucius has been speaking to him.

"Sorry?" he just manages. His attention is still hazy, memories buzzing frantically around his mind. He tries to swat them away as quickly as they arrive.

"I know he's not exactly our kind of people, but he's not that bad is he?" Lucius asks, eyeing Crowley's expression with concern.

"What? Oh! God no, no it's fine. I just thought... it's nothing. I'm sure he's fine."

Lucius still seems wary.

Crowley swallows, loosening his posture to his usual attitude as well as he can manage. "I'm just surprised—I thought it was just a myth that used bookstore owners wore that much tweed."

Lucius laughs, light and clear. The tension eases away and he turns, stepping back towards the door. "Still on for dinner? Tartaine?"

"What?" Crowley looks up sharply.

Lucius raises an eyebrow. "Dinner? Tonight?"

"Oh, yeah right. Yes, of course. Dinner. Still on, still good."

"Are you sure you're all right, Anthony." Lucius frowns.

Christ, not the concerned first name usage... "Yes, it's just I was up late," he pinches the bridge of his nose with mock focus, "too many orders to complete for the weekend. Wedding season and all that."

"Well, we'll just have to make up for it tonight then," Lucius smiles. And lord, he really is bloody good looking, isn't he?

"We'll see." Crowley answers, smirking back, thin and charming.

"See you at eight," Lucius waves, and then he's gone.

The second he's out of sight Crowley's back at the window. He peers out through the flowers, trying to get a decent look. He could still be wrong, there's still a chance it isn't him. There are plenty of pudgy, be-speckled mildew enthusiasts who smile at the air like it's some kind of bloody gift. It could be someone else entirely. It's been ten years after all.

He squints, leaning out the open garage doors as far as he dares, but it's useless. The windows are filthily, all obscured with dust and grim, and the building's on the shadier side of the street. The movers come out again, once, twice, carrying boxes from their lorry back into the dusty interior, but there's no sign of the new proprietor.

"Did you see him?" a voice asks suddenly.

Crowley looks over. Anathema's standing just outside the window, arms crossed lightly in front of her chest, leaning on his wall.

"What?" Crowley starts. "Oh, no. Not yet."

"What do you mean?" She frowns. "I just saw him walking away. He didn't stop in?"

"What? Who?" Crowley blinks back at her.

Anathema gives him a pitying look. "Luscious Lucius, dear."

"Dear God, please please don't call him that," Crowley grimaces, falling back from the window. "And just come inside, it's unsettling when you lurk out there. I feel like I'm working at a book-keeper’s."

"Fine, fine," she turns around the corner, pushing open the shop door with a light jingle.

Crowley turns away, heading for the lilacs with determination.

"What's got your knickers in a twist?" Anathema asks, plopping down on the stool behind the counter with her usual vagrant familiarity.

"No knickers, no twisting," Crowley replies, picking up his shears and a few branches of pink flowers.

"He didn't come in, did he?"

"He did, actually."

"Another date on the horizon?" Anathema asks, pretty thick eyebrows lifting quizzically.

"Tonight. Dinner." He neatly clips the stems diagonally, trimming the lower branches so there's enough room in the vessels.

"What's that make, three now?"

"Four." The flowers hang pendulous and languid in their containers, all weight and heady scent.

"Lucky number four?" Anathema asks with a sharp smile.

"We'll see about that," Crowley answers. He props a few pink branches in the first vase, he's been using antique glass bottles lately, which the customers are enamored with. The flowers hang with just a touch too much sag. He plucks them out again and trims the stems shorter.

Anathema's quiet for a moment. He can practically feel her narrow gaze evaluating him from behind the counter. He does his best to focus on his work.

"What's wrong with you?" she asks finally.

"Plenty, if you don't stop asking," he snipes back.

She ignores him easily. "Is it Lucius? Did he say something?"

Crowley sighs. She won't stop. If he's learnt anything about her by now, it's that. He sets the shears down on the table. "No."

"What then?"

He hesitates, but the truth is she might just be the closest thing he has to an actual friend. He'd been skeptical of her at first to say the least. He'd moved in and within three hours the leggy young woman who owned the shop next door had sauntered through the door, settling in as if she owned the place before even asking his name, attitude complete with earrings that looked as though they were designed to reflect star alignments, and hair that smelled of alternative medicine. But he'd realized very quickly that she was exceptionally clever, and cynically optimistic in just the right ways. She had a unapologetic perceptiveness to her character that was hard not to take a shine to. And for some reason, she seemed to like him back.

"Someone's leased the shop across the street," Crowley says.

"Oh, yes I know," her eyes widen, "that bloody lorry's been there half the day. Mrs. Gustav bent my ear for thirty minutes over the damn thing. Have you met them? Are they wretched?"

"I haven't met them," Crowley says warily. "But I know them. Or rather, I know him."

She eyes him carefully. "You still haven't answered the second question."

"He's not wretched. Rather the opposite actually," Crowley says. "Or at least he wasn’t when I knew him."

"When was this?"

Crowley sighs, running a hand through his thick hair. "Ten years ago? More? It was at school, Oxford."

"Friend? Foe?" She asks, leaning her sharp chin on her palm.

"Neither, really." His hands strip twigs from the lilacs idly. "Just one of those people you saw around, you know? We were in different departments, shared a few friends, that sort of thing."

"Mmm, I can see why such a haunting presence would cause you distress," she teased.

He looks at her firmly. "There may have been... an incident."

She looks back. "... 'An incident'?"

"That's right."

"Did you speak over him just loud enough in some Commonly Propagated Historical Fictions lectures? Beat him into Social Entitled Elitist Dinner Club?"

Crowley narrows his eyes at her. "Do you want to know or not?"

"I do know," she smiles back, "you wouldn't be blushing like that unless you'd shagged the poor bastard."

His face heats up even more viciously. "We didn't 'shag'. Well... not really I mean."

"You kissed him?"

"Bit more than that," he admits.

"Snogged?" she grins.

Crowley's cheeks really do seem to be determined to be utter bastards. "That's apt enough."

"Oh, well, what's the big deal?" Anathema rolls her head to one side, long hair shifting over her back. "I'm sure you did your fair share of snogging in college."

"Thanks," Crowley returns dryly.

"You're welcome, dear," she continues seamlessly. "So, what's the big deal? It was ten years ago, right? What? Were you in love with him or something?"

"No!" Crowley says instantly. "God, no. I just... I think it could be uncomfortable, that's all. Seeing him again. Working close quarters."

Anathema smiles, raising one eyebrow. "Oh so, you think he was in love with you?"

"I didn't say that," Crowley says sharply. "It can just be awkward that's all, running into people from your past. I tend to leave an impression."

"My God," Anathema grins, "look at the bloody ego on you."

"It's not ego," Crowley says cleanly, "it's just how things trend with me. It's not something I enjoy. I was almost assaulted in the produce aisle once when someone I ended up spending New Year’s with in law-school reached for the same cantaloupe."

"What's he look like anyways? Besides misty-eyed with trysts of the past?"

Crowley shrugs, grabbing a few lilacs and easing them into an arrangement. "Medium height, sturdy-build, terrible clothing."

"Curly hair almost that's a little too perfect?"

Crowley looks up. "How'd you—"

"He's coming over here."

"What?" Crowley scrambles around the table, peering out the windows. And indeed he's already crossing the street, with a polite half-hearted jog and a wave to the inconvenienced traffic.

"Should I prepare a bucket of ice water?" Anathema grins.

"Fucking hell--" Crowley looks frantically down at himself. He's wearing the bloody apron still but it's too late to take it off now. His tie's tucked neatly underneath, sleeves rolled up just past his elbows. He runs a hand through his hair hoping it isn't too disastrous, trying to ignore the way Anathema's grinning at him all the while.

The bell on the door jingles.

"Ah, hello," the voice calls, and god if he'd had any doubts before that's settled them. It's definitely him. No one else can sound that enamored with the universe and intelligently concerned over it at the same time.

"I do hope you'll excuse my intrusion, but I wanted to introduce myself." He gazes around the shop as he enters, a small smile easing onto his face as he takes in the flowers surrounding them on all sides.

"Of course," Anathema says, standing instantly. She holds out a hand. "Pleasure to meet you, I'm Anathema."

"Aziraphale," he takes her offered hand warmly.

"That's quite the name," Anathema observes.

"I might say the same to you, dear. But I promise, I'm undeserving of mine's romanticism," he smiles. "Is this your shop?"

"Uh, no," Crowley clears his throat, keeping half behind the cutting table, making an uncomfortable attempt to lean on it casually. "She's a squatter. It's my shop."

The man looks at him. Crowley swallows. His eyes shine exactly the same way they always have: kind and ferociously intelligent. Something shifts behind those eyes in confusion. He blinks once behind his round clear glasses.

"I see," Aziraphale says. "And you are...?"

Anathema just manages to disguise her snort of laughter as an ugly cough.

Crowley stares. "... It's Crowley."

"Ah," Aziraphale's brows furrow slightly, "last name or first name?"

He's not sure wether to laugh or not. "...Crowley. Anthony Crowley."

"Well, it's a pleasure," Aziraphale says extending a hand with a hesitant expression.

Crowley ignores it. "We've met before. Several times. Dozens even."

Aziraphale frowns. "Oh goodness, I'm terribly sorry, but I don't think so."

Crowley does laugh now, one short breath of disbelief. "Well I do think so. Oxford -- class of 2001? You were theology; I was pre-law."

The man's brow wrinkles sadly. "Well, now I'm sure I've been unforgivably forgetful. I hope do you'll excuse me."

Crowley's still gaping. "You honestly don't remember?"

Aziraphale shrugs. "As I said I'm terribly sorry. Unforgivable. Really."

"I was mates with Sasha Miller, Raji Patel," he gestures vaguely at his face, "sunglasses all the time, drove that Bentley around campus."

"Something is ringing a bell," Aziraphale squints. "The sunglasses sound familiar... not sure about the car. But look, I really am very sorry. The truth is if things aren't in text I'm like a sieve. It's terrible of me, truly."

"Oh no, it's not," Anathema smiles leaning against the counter. "Books have far more colors for being so black and white. And he's very forgettable."

"I'm sure not," Aziraphale smiles kindly.

Apparently so, Crowley thinks, picking up the clippers from the cutting table a tad aggressively.

"It's a beautiful shop," Aziraphale tries to recover.

"Thank you," Crowley says without looking over. The darker purple lilacs make their way into three bottles in neat, quick succession.

"Mine's just next door," Anathema says. "The Nine of Cups."

"Oh the, um, 'occult' shop just there?" Aziraphale asks. Crowley can't help smiling. He does a wonderful job of trying to keep his voice kind but there's no hiding the skepticism.

"That's right," Anathema says, "herbals and holistic healing. A few household spells as well, that sort of thing."

"That's very," the struggle's clear, "...interesting."

"Isn't it just," Crowley returns, giving Anathema a look. She smirks back, utterly lacking any of the deserved self-consciousness for what in his opinion amounts to little better than snake-oil trading.

"Well, I should really make sure that those boxes are getting where they need to be. Some of the volumes are quite old I want to ensure they're being treated with due respect." Aziraphale says, "but it's been a pleasure."

"It certainly has," Anathema says.

"See you," Aziraphale gives a small wave and turns, exiting the way he'd come.

"Not one word," Crowley grumbles as soon as he's gone.

"That's all right, I have several," Anathema says cheekily, "including: pathetic, deluded, egotistical--"

"All right, all right, that's enough of that."

"Seriously though, are you positive that's the same guy?"

"Yes, I'm bloody positive." He glowers.

"He is cute, I have to admit."

"He looks like a potato in somebody’s nan's jumper."

Anathema grins. "A cute potato."

"Potatoes have no sexual appeal," Crowley says sternly, brandishing the shears. "Not even to each other. They self-fertilize."

"Of course they do," Anathema smiles, standing from behind the counter with a stretch and heading towards the door. "You let me know if you end up self-fertilizing tonight won't you?"

"Excuse me?" Crowley starts.

She gives him a pitying expression. "Tonight? Date? Luscious Lucius?"

Crowley huffs. "Right of course, and why would I be telling you anything of the kind?"

"Because, unfortunately for you, you've no one else to tell it to." She catches the door frame and turns back with a smile. "I'll bring the booze."

Crowley can't help smiling back. "Sold."

 

Lucius meets Crowley in front of the shop at eight. They take his dark green Porsche GT911 across town, leaving the roof down. The day cooled off exactly the right amount to be pleasant at dusk. The brightness of the day has burnt off into a luminescent cool evening, all indigos and pinks with the sun low on the horizon, hesitant to sink away completely.

Lucius compliments his Etro linen, a pale blue button-up with sharp lines and diagonally darted hems. Crowley returns the favor, noting his watch: Diesel, Black Gold.

Their dinner arrives on flat slates in dim lighting and soft music: hamachi folded with tuna, green apple wasabi, celery, and Maui-Meyer lemon spritzed across the top.

Lucius asks him about the lilacs, and he tells him they've been very happy with them. Crowley asks him about the flat closing in Hammersmith, and he tells him it continues to be troublesome.

When dessert comes he feels a leg push against his under the table. He pushes back.

Lucius kisses as neatly as he shaves, urging Crowley back against the door of the apartment, opening him easily one press at a time. He's quick with the clothes, hands nimbly sliding under Crowley's belt, smoothly plucking the buttons open on his shirt, easing his coat off his shoulders.

He bounces onto an obscenely high thread count, all silk and easy under his bare skin. The hands find him again quick enough, clever and slow, easing out one groan at a time. Crowley comes with his face half sunk into the thick down of pillows and the sound of Lucius' gasps behind him. He bites down a curse against it, grinding his cock against the give of the mattress, dragging his climax out one pull at a time before finally falling still.

Lucius falls asleep quickly.

Crowley doesn't.

He lays on his back, staring up at the skylight above them, one arm slung over his head. He waits for sleep to find him, but apparently he's hard to locate tonight. Up above the orange of the city glows against the dark of the sky. He tries to pick stars out of it. He knows it's impossible. He tries all the same, stretching his toes impatiently under the blankets.

"And you are?" The clear eyes blink once behind round glasses.

With a sigh he rolls to his side. There are lilacs on the bedside table, the scent of them filling the room.

It only made sense, didn't it? He hadn't told him his name on that night. Why would he have? They hadn't known each other, not really, just familiar bodies that passed each other from time to time, and accidentally collided once when whiskey and youth pushed a little too hard.

He should be glad, if anything. From what he remembers he's a decent sort of fellow. In all likelihood he'll make a perfectly pleasant neighbor.

"--Unforgivable, really." He still smiles exactly the same way; as if he's more than intelligent enough to understand the world for exactly what it is and miraculously loves it all the same.

He doesn't remember. It's better that way. Best.

Crowley rolls over, easing his body against Lucius' back and burying his nose in the short scratch of his hair. He smells of cotton and lily, and still just a bit like sex. Crowley shut his eyes.

All things considered, his current lot could be much worse.