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Of Orchids & Ferns

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The howl of a demon in pain can often be heard miles away but people barely recognise it as what it is. It manifests as an unsettling feeling that something is going to go wrong soon. Being of the same stock, angels can hear and feel it, but one angel in particular had never thought that it would come to this when he suggested that Crowley should go to the local garden club.

For the last few days, Aziraphale had tried desperately to shoo him out of the house. Ever since they had averted Armageddon, Crowley had found himself with little to do aside from mindlessly scrolling through Instagram and liking a photo of a plant here and there.

Quite unexpectedly, it had turned out that Crowley coming up with little ways to annoy humanity had given him plenty of ways to kill time. Now that this part of their routine fell away, it was back to sitting on the couch the wrong way up, feet at the top and head hanging down. 

“You’ll like it,” Aziraphale stated, not sure if he was trying to make a point or was already begging him.

Crowley scowled at him. “The last thing I want to do is talk to other people …”

Aziraphale was ready to counter that part of the reason they stopped the world ending had been the people.

“… oh my little tulip stopped blooming …” Crowley simply went on and imitated an old lady’s voice. It was not very convincing. “Ah well, it’s summer that’s normal.

Crowley rolled his eyes but Aziraphale was not ready to let the argument go. “You need to get out of the house.”

“Mhm.”

“Do more than stare at your phone the whole day.” Aziraphale went on. “Get out, meet new people.”

Crowley ignored him and only muttered under his breath that at least Crowley had a smart-phone unlike other beings in this house. Aziraphale had always been certain that Downstairs had thought of them but after a few years of consideration he hadn’t been sure anymore. Heaven was quite fond of them …

This meant it was time for something drastic. “I am even considering going to a book club myself.” Desperate times … desperate measures … Aziraphale knew it would be awkward. He loved mankind’s creations but humans themselves … they were so complicated and unpredictable. It made him nervous.

However, Aziraphale intended to lead by example – they had survived the ending of the world together, had faced Heaven and Hell, so what could a couple of humans do?

At least it had peaked Crowley’s interest enough that he had started to sit the right way up.

“Really?” Crowley asked slowly. The more Aziraphale fidgeted, the wider the smirk on Crowley’s face grew.

Aziraphale only nodded. Now that Crowley didn’t look at him the wrong way up anymore, he felt that it wouldn’t take a lot to convince him to leave the house.

“I am sure they could … benefit …” Aziraphale picked his words wisely, all these years tempting a few people in Crowley’s name couldn’t have gone to waste. “… from my expert knowledge.”

Crowley opened his mouth but before he could interject some remark about his expert knowledge, Aziraphale added, “just like the plant enthusiasts could from you.”

Amazingly, Crowley stayed silent and stared at a spot above Aziraphale’s shoulder. He was considering the proposal. Aziraphale held his breath for a few painful minutes. While it was true that maybe Crowley was superior in knowledge, he hoped that the opposite would happen. Crowley should pick up some gardening tips that did not include shouting. Even though, Aziraphale had to admit that it was efficient.

“I think …” Crowley began, stretching the i. “You are right.” Then a smile spread across his face.  “We have nothing to lose, right?”

Aziraphale’s plan had been a success, and Crowley even seemed to be excited by the prospect. Then he stopped nodding, he had almost missed the …

“We?”  he asked. Crowley could not possibly mean that he would have to go to the book club now.

“Sure,” Crowley stated. Aziraphale should have known better, he knew the tone Crowley had been using and he knew to be wary of it. Nothing good had ever come out of that. “Enjoy your book club, Angel.”

Crowley got up from the couch and wished a jacket into existence. As he passed Aziraphale he pressed a kiss on top of his head. “We’ll meet for lunch afterwards, right?”

“Right …”

“We can compare notes!”

A moment later the engine of the old Bentley’s fired up and Crowley was gone. Well … at least Crowley had gotten out of the house. This was a bles---, a mir---, a windfall in itself.

 


 

Crowley’s enthusiasm only lasted until he set a foot inside the gardening centre’s backroom. Even with more than 6 millennia to his name, Crowley felt that he lowered the average age in the room. It was mostly filled with little old ladies, who seemed the sort of people who were convinced that they knew the law better than any lawyer. Crowley had met plenty of those in his … former line of work.

Each of those ladies were already bundled up in groups, quickly chattering amongst each other while passing on the latest news about knit wear and fertiliser. The edge of the room was filled with reluctant looking husbands, who hid away from their wives and sadly picked on a few cookies. It was one of the rare moments that Crowley was glad that his supernatural abilities indirectly included going unnoticed in a room unless he wanted to.

Instead of walking into this battlefield, Crowley decided to look at the plants on display. This would be the best place to start and see where everyone was making mistakes. Then he could still consider if he should share his vast knowledge. It was a shame, Crowley had left his favourite and most terrified fern at home, but they had only recently moved, so another change in the atmosphere might do no good. Even if Crowley suspected that the constant chattering of the grannies could be more torturous than anything Crowley could ever dream of. It was human feature after all …

He stopped in front of an especially beautiful orchid. The blossom was stunning and sharp purple, and Crowley couldn’t help but notice that it had never been cut back. He knew that orchids had a spiteful character similar to a princess sleeping on a pea. Crowley nodded impressed, wondering …

“Don’t touch it.”

Crowley lowered his hand again. He wasn’t sure what had caught him off guard, the fact that someone had even noticed his presence, or that someone had dared to give him an order? So he turned to the owner of the voice, only to be met by a rather unimpressive looking human. He did a quick scan, seeing the worn-out shoes, old jeans, and a tattered jumper – washed too many times.

“It doesn’t like that.”

He quickly concluded that there was no danger coming from him. Not a salve of hell in disguise …

“You’re new here,” the person said. Crowley knew that it should have been a question but the tone already suggested that he knew the answer.

“Mhm.” It didn’t matter, Crowley did not want to go into detail about the whole Heaven, Hell, and the Antichrist business. In retrospect, it was a messy story to tell. Instead, he opted to turn their attention back towards the plant, after all Crowley was curious. “How much shouting did it take?”

It was such a beautiful plant that it must be getting some sort of special treatment. Crowley had to know which it was; which words terrified plants the most? This human seemed to have the answer.

“Sorry?”

Crowley thought for a moment, wondering how his statement could have been misunderstood. It had been a while since he had had a normal conversation with another human. Even less so since it hadn’t involved some sort of temptation.

“Ah, where did I leave my head?” Crowley stated with fake cheer as he borrowed one of Aziraphale’s expressions – even though, he had pointed out on multiple occasions that, unless discorporated in an unfortunate matter, he could hardly lose it. “I need to introduce myself first, I am Anthony J. Crowley.”

As a token of good faith, Crowley offered the human his hand. The other man only looked at it wearily. Maybe, Crowley began to wonder, they could smell it on him … smell that he was different.

“I’m Atticus,” he mumbled.

After a moment, Crowley placed his hands back at his side. Or maybe this was a too formal gesture for a garden club.

“I didn’t want to come,” Atticus added quickly.

Crowley rolled his eyes, thinking about Aziraphale’s pestering. “Tell me about it,” he responded. Not that he had been that wrong about giving people gardening tips but the most prominent reason why he had gone was so that Aziraphale had to suffer through the book club. Afterwards, they would come to the mutual conclusion that they would never try anything like this again.

“My brother, Scout, told me that I should get out of my comfort zone more,” Atticus began. Crowley opened his mouth in an effort to explain that he hadn’t been literal. Atticus kept on talking. “I like my comfort zone, so I stated that I am perfectly fine where I was – at home, in my garden shed …”

Crowley closed his mouth again, listening.

“Then he tried it by explaining that I could share gardening tips with people. As if I needed any. You can see my flower, it’s beautiful.”

Crowley nodded supportively – both in regards of the gardening tips and the beautiful flower.

“Scout suggested that if I didn’t like it here the first time, I wouldn’t have to come back.”

A sigh escaped Atticus, indicating that the next part of the story would be even more dreadful. 

“I thought that I’ll pretend that I have been here, come back, and say that I hated it.”

As far as Crowley could make out, this sounded like a reasonable plan. And yet, Atticus was right here – stuck in the same misery. So he asked, “What went wrong?”

After a moment of silence, Atticus began to talk again. His voice was just a whisper. “Scout is waiting outside in the car. He is watching all the exits.”

“Oh.”

Crowley took a few steps to the side, so he could see outside. Indeed, down the street parked a tattered old Volvo. Inside sat a man who shared a few facial features with Atticus and was sipping coffee.

Despite the minor failure, he had to express his admiration of the plan. “Shame I didn’t think of that idea.” Then he added. “Aziraphale wouldn’t have checked up. I am not even sure he can drive.” Crowley mused.

“Aziraphale?” Atticus asked, while a frown formed on his face.

“Oh yeah. He’s my …” Crowley tried to fumble for the right word. “… other half … partner. We’ve known each other for a long time and after a change in, erm, jobs? …”

Atticus cut him off by asking, “Like the Principality in the bible?”

This should have stopped Crowley from stammering through his sentence, but it only made it worse as he tried to judge how to respond. “I erm …. We … he …” Leave it up to him to meet the only bible nut in the world to recognise the name. Even Crowley wasn’t sure if Aziraphale was mentioned in it.

“Are you … religious?” Crowley finally managed to bring out.

Atticus shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

But how did he recognise Aziraphale’s name then? Not finding an answer, he decided to ask Atticus.

“I read the bible five years ago.” Atticus explained. “He was the guardian of the Eastern Gate in Eden.”

Crowley nodded. “Good memory.”

The silence stretched.

When Crowley looked back to Atticus, he could see that he still waited for an answer. “Erm …” As far as Crowley was concerned, nobody would believe the truth anyway. They would think that it would be a joke and then they could return to talking about the greenery. “Sure, he’s Aziraphale, former guard of the Easter Gate. We met in Eden because I was the serpent who tempted Eve,” Crowley began. “I fancied a chat. Wanted to annoy him because he had lost his flaming sword already.”

He waited for the laughter that would follow such a statement, as well as some sort of phrase like aren’t you a funny one that Crowley so much loathed. He really should not have invented it.

Neither happened. When Crowley looked at Atticus again, it seemed like he was trying to solve a riddle, just that Crowley did not know which equations Atticus was using right now. He did not like it, it unsettled him.

“So, Atticus,” Crowley began, trying to divert their attention back towards the orchid. “Do you shout at it a lot?” His voice had gone up a pitch towards the end. He hated that it had happened, a silly tendency when he became nervous.

“What?” Atticus responded absently. “No … I just read to them.”

Crowley decided to move the conversation on. “I see, I read about talking to plants in the 70s. I knew from experience that motivational shouting is very efficient, so I prefer that.”

Atticus pulled a face that anyone but a demon who continued to ramble on about plants would have registered as slight concern.

“You just put … the fear of God in them,” Crowley went on and forced a laugh. “Speaking from personal experience that is not to be underestimated. Nevertheless, it works like a treat and …”

“How old are you again?” Atticus cut in-between.

“What? I … my …” Crowley began to stutter, not sure where the question had come from. He wasn’t even sure how to answer it. He didn’t want to talk about himself, he just wanted to get some gardening tips. Now he had to come up with a reasonable age to be at, so he and Aziraphale would not be outed again. Sighing, Crowley looked at Atticus, guessed his age, then he looked at his own body and guessed that age. “42?”

Crowley had spent enough time on Earth to know that at this point his deceptive powers would kick in. It’s the same reason people hardly noticed that he had snake eyes – often they would remark that he had either “weird” or “bright” eyes. After all, humans only saw what they wanted to. So, Atticus would realise that Crowley was around the age of 42, and move on.

 “You said that you read about gardening in the 70s,” Atticus pointed out.

What the fuck? Ever since rejecting both Heaven and Hell, Crowley could no longer curse either, so he often opted for the neutral word fuck. “I have?”

“Yes.”

“Hm.” Even if, Atticus should have not questioned Crowley, unless he was taking everything he had said literal.  “Oh.” It dawned on Crowley … Atticus had taken everything at face value, and because Crowley often lost track of his own lies, he would get caught in them very soon anyway. So he might as well try …

“Well, to be honest, I am a Fallen Angel and I did tempt Eve when the Earth was created. It had been a Tuesday, or … Wednesday? Hard to remember,” Crowley began. “And yes, there is a God but She doesn’t answer and She is quite indifferent towards being worshipped or not. Sometimes I even feel that Upstairs has no idea what She is planning anyway. Aziraphale didn’t. Oh, speaking of …” Crowley considered where to start with that story but simply cut to the core. “We stopped the End of the World a month ago because we had grown fond of this place and each other. Neither side was happy about that, so we were cast out, moved here and because he claims I grew bored …” Crowley made quotation marks and rolled his eyes. “… he forced me to visit this garden club. At the very least, I managed to make his day miserable because now he has to go to a book club.”

… the truth.

Crowley let out a deep breath. He briefly considered if there was anything he should add … “Oh, I always had black wings.” … but that pretty much summed it up.

Atticus nodded, and then his features softened as if he had found the answer to all of his questions. “That’s all right then,” Atticus mumbled. “Makes sense.”

“It does?” asked a rather surprised Crowley.

“Yes. It also explains the fish that rained on my garden last month.”

Crowley agreed. He had known that it must have happened somewhere, after all it had been written, but he had missed the news about where.

“What did you do with the fish?” he wondered.

“It was fresh fish, so I dug it into the ground,” Atticus elaborated. “It is good fertiliser after all.”

Humans had always been quite resourceful, Crowley mused. He was rather impressed. “So you said that you read to your plants …”

 


 

When the meeting had finished, Atticus had managed to convince Crowley to switch from shouting to reading. Atticus had explained that his plants love the economics pages the most. Crowley would try it on one plant first and if effective, he would spread the practise out. What neither knew, was that reading the economics pages to plants was more terrifying for them than anything Crowley, Heaven, Hell and even God combined could have ever shouted. But they meant well, and while neither noticed, both left the meeting with a slight spring in their steps.

Thus, when Atticus climbed into Scout’s car, he couldn’t help but ask, “You had fun?”

Atticus nodded and reached for the seatbelt while Scout pointed at Crowley who made his way towards his badly parked Bentley. “Who was that you were talking to?”

He looked up just as Crowley started the car and drove away, in what Scout did not deem to be the safest driving style but he seemed to abide to the speed limit.

“Oh, that is Crowley,” Atticus explained.

“Weird name.”

“Maybe,” Atticus stated and buckled up. “But he is an over 6000-year-old demon, and rather nice.”

Scout smirked. If anything that man was hardly a demon, by the looks of his car and clothing choices, he had only entered his mid-life crisis a few years ago.

“Are you getting a sense of humour now?” Scout teased his brother.

Atticus frowned. “No?”  He wondered why his brother would think that. “Crowley had told me.”

Scout sighed. “He was joking,” he tried to explain to his brother. This Crowley person had probably not known that Atticus would take it literal.

“He wasn’t,” Atticus insisted. He couldn’t follow why his brother had thought so, at least Crowley had not treated him like he was unable to understand the world.

Scout decided to ignore the argument and simply asked, “Are you going to meet him in the garden club next week again?” Maybe he would take a closer look at Crowley to asses if he had meant ill or if it had just been a blunder.

Atticus opened his mouth and then closed it again as he also decided to bury the prior argument. “I think so,” he responded. After his brother drove away from the curb he went on, “Crowley and his boyfriend are new here, so I thought we could invite them for dinner? With Freddy?”

“Boyfriend?” Scout muttered to himself. He should have known, given the way he sauntered and dressed. “And is that one a demon too?” 

As soon as the jibe had left his mouth, he winced. Even if it offended Atticus, maybe it would also help him to see how absurd he had sounded.

“Very funny, Scout,” Atticus shot back and crossed his arms. Despite being a crude approach, it seems to have worked, Scout thought. “Of course not, he’s an angel!”

 


 

At the same time, in a rather lovely café south of town, a former angel and demon were enjoying a selection of cakes with coffee. The afore mentioned angel was listening with delight to what Crowley recounted. Especially, when the sentence “I think, I made a friend today” left his mouth. Crowley beamed when he had said it, and Aziraphale knew that it had been far too long since that expression had crossed his features.

“And, he invited us over for dinner,” Crowley went on while Aziraphale spooned a bit of milk froth from his coffee into his mouth. “I thought you’d like that.”

“I do,” Aziraphale responded with the spoon still sticking out. Then he placed it at the side and looked at Crowley with a smile on his face. “We’ll make the time despite our very hectic schedules.”

Crowley took a deep breath but let the issue go. Instead, he just glared at Aziraphale who already knew what he would have said anyway. Crowley had seen his point in trying to make him leave the house once in a while.

Despite his intend to lead by example, Crowley’s garden club seemed to have gone better than his book club adventure. While Aziraphale liked human beings as a concept and their creations, he often felt that it was hard to find individuals who were likeable … or did not bother call his interpretation of The Da Vinci Code wrong.

Even though, he had had a lovely conversation about crêpes with a young lady before everything had gone South.

Plus, there was the real possibility that he had outed them as eternal beings, so now half of the group thought that he was either insane or an Archangel – which, when he carefully considered it wasn’t that different.

His intention had been to never return but now that Crowley had had such a successful evening, he felt that he would have to at least try one more time. Despite the fact that it been rather …

“Oh …” Crowley began after a moment of comfortable silence. “… how was your book club thingy?”

… shit.