"Spending an otherwise fine afternoon deep in the recesses of some musty old bookshop is not my idea of a good time. "
He could practically hear Aziraphale's pout through the line. "You don't seem to mind mine all that much."
"Well...It's...that's entirely different."
"Oh? How is my bookshop entirely different, exactly?"
"It...just...I am not having this conversation, all right? I do not want to be here for hours. Listen, I'm busy." He held the mobile next to his (replacement) plant mister and pulled the trigger several times for emphasis, coincidentally liberally watering a lush hanging fern. "You hear that? Busy."
"Can't explain it, anyway." And then, because he couldn't help himself, he covered the mobile's mic with his thumb and muttered into the nearest shrub, "'S ineffable."
"What was that?"
"But it's been open for over a week already! Think of all the treasures I may have missed out on in all that time!"
"That's what you get for relying on outdated news methods."
"They're newspapers, Crowley," Aziraphale told him, a slight reprimand in his tone.
"Exactly, they're newspapers. Digital is where you want to be in the twenty-first century, take it from me."
"Where I want to be," Aziraphale said, a trifle testily, "is in that new bookshop. No longer brand-new bookshop. Tomorrow. Preferably not all by myself."
"Very probably the shopkeeper will be there…"
"Just think, they might have an original printing of Thomas Lupton." Aziraphale's voice had turned wistful. He was probably gazing beatifically at the ceiling. "That's from 1627, you know. Or even, that reminds me, a copy of The Bird in a Cage. They put on a simply marvelous performance of that at the Phoenix back in sixteen...oh, sixteen something or other…"
"Oh, don't do the wistful thing," Crowley groaned, sotto voce. "You know I can't handle the wistful thing."
"And I'm sure there are plenty of lovely early octavos I still haven't found yet…"
"Stop," Crowley told him. "All right. You win, angel. Good has defeated Evil in this battle, and all that. For now," he added.
It wasn't, for all his protests, actually all that bad an idea. In the month since the Apocalypse hadn't happened, and their individual trials also, in a way, hadn't happened, Heaven and Hell had pretty much left the two of them alone. Still, it didn't do to attract too much attention. Occasional lunches at the Ritz were about as high-visibility as they preferred to get. London's newest antique bookshop in - somewhere vaguely near Whitechapel, he'd have to check for sure - would be one of the last locales in which a divine and/or infernal run-in was likely to take place.
"Splendid! Meet me here tomorrow at, let's see, eleven?"
"Yeah, yeah, sure."
More softly then: "You really don't mind?"
Crowley rolled his eyes and did his best to keep the grin from colouring his words. "I'll let you know if I do."
He opened his eyes with a start. He hadn't intended to sleep last night, but sometime this morning he'd left the telly on playing some nonsensical interchangeable breakfast programme and he had evidently dozed off on the sofa out of sheer, mind-numbing boredom.
A glance at the fashionably outrageously-priced Devon Tread on his wrist told him he needed to leave soon if he were to make his rendezvous with Aziraphale on time. He stood up, stretching, and out of newfound habit casually made a sweep of his flat. It was prudent to be sure he knew precisely how things were laid out before he left, just in case anyone decided to pay an unscheduled visit while he was away. He still hadn't forgotten how Hastur and Ligur had strolled in as though they owned the place, although neither of them had actually successfully strolled back out again.
He was brought up short in the room in which he kept his plants. Normally an unbroken sea of green, something round and not-green stood out decidedly from its fellows.
That hadn't been there last night. He'd have noticed, he was pretty sure. Aziraphale had rung him up to make his demands and Crowley had been standing right in here while they'd talked.
He'd chosen this shrub years ago because he'd liked its sturdy, shiny leaves with their little sawtooth edges. It had fit in well with the rest of his plants, all of them sporting their own choicest leaves, except that this one was now also sporting a flower. It was quite some flower, too, for anyone who was prone to liking that sort of thing. Multiple layers of velvety-soft, pale blue petals formed a plush circular cluster less than three inches across. It fit neatly into his palm.
He'd never paid attention to which of them might bloom. None of his plants had ever tried.
Well, it couldn't stay here. The rest of them might start getting ideas. Crowley gave the assembly a good sharp glare, just in case.
He really had to go, but the timing could actually be fortuitous. Aziraphale, he decided, might like the thing. He detached it gently from the remainder of the shrub, and headed out to his Bentley.
A snap of his fingers and A.Z. Fell's doors opened for him, then shut behind, the newly-installed silver bell (with a few complicated runes inscribed discreetly in its interior) that hung above them jingling merrily.
"We're closed!" Aziraphale's voice called out. He was nowhere in sight.
"I know. It's me."
Aziraphale appeared from behind a tall bookcase, clad in shirtsleeves and waistcoat, curls slightly askew. "Crowley!" He brushed some dust from his hands. "I was just going through some of my collections to see what I need. Don't want to purchase duplicates by mistake while we're there, or..." He caught sight of the blue flower Crowley was gingerly carrying. "What's this?"
"It showed up on one of my plants this morning. Never happened before. I think something's gone wrong."
"It's perfectly lovely. It can't have gone all that wrong."
"Not only that, it doesn't even really have a scent," Crowley mumbled. "Seems to me it's skiving off, a flower not bothering with a scent. But what do I know? Not much for flowers, me. More your style, I think." He thrust it forward awkwardly. "Um. So."
Aziraphale's smile widened and he plucked the blossom from Crowley's fingers. "You're right, it is my style. It's very thoughtful of you."
"Look at all those layers," Aziraphale went on. "What kind is it?"
"Hmm? Oh, just some…" he waved a hand aimlessly, "kind of flower, I suppose."
"Well, I'm sure I have a small vase or cup around here somewhere. And I need to get my outer coat and pocketwatch at any rate. I'll be back in two shakes of a lamb's tail." He disappeared into the back rooms, where the small kitchenette and the large brass-framed mirror were. Crowley knew Aziraphale wasn't vain, not in any sense of the word. The principality liked quality things, and that extended to quality clothes, but what was the point in having quality clothes if you didn't at least make sure they were put on correctly?
"Crowley?" Aziraphale called from the other room.
Crowley didn't look up from where he was idly perusing the shelves, trying to pretend that the centuries-old leather-bound spines of Aldrovandi's Ornithologiae on the nearest one were in any way interesting. "Yeah?"
"I think this is probably a camellia."
Writing a single weighty thousand-page tome, Crowley had to allow, on different types of birds might have seemed reasonable, if a bit odd. Bloke seemed to have really liked birds. Perhaps he'd even figured out whether or not ducks had ears. Two volumes, however, was pushing it. "Sure, probably is. I wouldn't know."
"I'm almost positive it's a camellia. They're not supposed to have much of a scent."
"Yes, I'm quite sure I recognize them from the Garden. There were some particularly nice shrubs near the Eastern side. Some of them were even trees."
Three volumes was outright insanity. How many kinds of birds could there be? You'd run out and be obliged to begin making new ones up yourself after a couple thousand pages, surely? "Haven't got the tree kind, I'm afraid."
"Only I'm certain they don't come in blue."
Crowley gave a guilty start, nearly braining himself on a thick outsized atlas that overhung the top of the shelf. "Oh, er, don't they?"
"No. Pink or red or white, that's what I remember. Something to do with how the cells are made, I think. Well, are you ready?"
And there stood Aziraphale in the doorway with his coat on, curls back in place, beaming at him. Beaming, for Somebody's sake. The sight hit Crowley like a blow to the gut, although curiously it was not a blow that hurt, merely one that punched all the air out of him in one go.
He couldn't tear his gaze away. "Is...That's what you call finding a vase?" he croaked.
"Oh well, it's such a lovely day out. I thought, why not, how often do I get the opportunity? It won't wilt if that's what you're worried about, I'll make sure of that." Aziraphale paused, then reddened slightly, tugging at his bow tie. "You don't think it's too much, do you? Only I know it's fallen a bit out of fashion these days, and I wouldn't want to look too out of place amongst the, er, flaring trousers or whatever it is they're wearing now..."
The blessed fool had gone and slipped it into the coat's buttonhole. It sat there nestled against his left collarbone, tucked into fine-gauge cream wool, and this close to the angel's face, it was impossible for Crowley to deny what he'd been half-suspecting and trying not to think about all morning.
The camellia was, against all probability and laws of nature, the exact same crystal blue shade as Aziraphale's eyes.
Aziraphale's smile faded a little nervously. It was only when he started to raise his hand towards his lapel that Crowley realized the angel had taken Crowley's silence for disapproval.
"No, no," Crowley managed, before the camellia could be removed. "Keep it."
Aziraphale looked relieved. "You know, I do sometimes miss the days when a gentleman could wear a buttonhole as a matter of course when going out. I suppose I could occasionally buy myself some flowers at the corner shop and trim them down..."
"I can bring you loads," Crowley blurted, before he could stop himself. "As many as you want."
The beam was back on in full force. Crowley wondered hazily if it were possible to be blinded by a sunny expression if you accidentally stared into it too long. Wait, what was it he’d said? Had he just offered his services as a...a florist?
"Oh could you?" Aziraphale sighed. "That would be ever so nice. And I don't think I'd be able to find any comparable to this in the shops, to tell the truth."
He couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't make him feel like he was stepping deeper into a pool of quicksand that simultaneously seemed as if it had sprung out of nowhere under his feet and yet somehow also seemed as if it had invisibly been there all along, so he made do with a wordless grunt.
Fortunately, Aziraphale seemed to accept this as an articulate reply and turned away, patting his pockets. "Now where did I put that shop's address?"
Freed from the immediate intensity of that smile, Crowley found himself able to breathe properly again. And for a supernatural creature that had absolutely no obligation to do so, well, that was saying a lot.
"Never mind that," he spoke up. "I Googled it."
"You did what to it?" Aziraphale said absently, eyes scanning the nearest horizontal surface, an ornately-carved Moroccan table, as though he could possibly locate anything amid the teetering stacks of books piled on top.
"Not to it, I meant I went online and - look, I know the address, all right?"
"Well in that case," and Aziraphale swept a hand towards the front door, favouring Crowley with another dazzling smile that suddenly made dark glasses seem like the smartest idea Crowley had had all millennium, "after you."
It was late in the evening when he stepped back into his flat. A quick check of the premises revealed an untampered-with living space. A quick glance at his plants revealed no additional flowers, blue or otherwise, and he was not entirely sure if he was relieved or disappointed by that discovery.
He should be feeling tired. He'd walked what felt like miles around a cramped bookshop that couldn't possibly have fit all that walking space in. And then if that hadn't been bad enough, the shop owner had recommended another one just around the corner that might have that 1744 R. Dodsley collection of old plays, volume nine, and Crowley had found himself trailing along in the principality's wake through at least another five shops, caddying the latter's purchases. ("Look, 's not like I'm doing anything else here anyway, am I?" he'd grumbled by way of explanation, and Aziraphale's grateful expression had been all he'd needed to tell him he'd made the right choice.) To be fair, they hadn't all been musty old bookshops. There had been the place with the darling silver snuffboxes of some unusual Viennese make or other, and the place with just the right vintage buttons to replace the ones on Aziraphale's waistcoat should the dire need ever arise.
And then there'd been dinner. Crowley as usual hadn't felt like eating much, but he'd ordered a slice of angel cake mainly so that Aziraphale could steal most of it off his plate. For such an airy dessert, the few bites he'd taken himself had sat strangely heavy in his stomach. The wine had been a nice spicy Pinot Gris. It had pretty likely been the wine to blame. The glow of soft blue petals in the light from the table's small candle had probably had nothing to do with it whatsoever.
So he should be tired. Instead, he was pacing his office with a nervous energy he couldn't quite pin a cause to. After another half a dozen steps he pulled out his smartphone and hit the last dialed number.
"I made it, yeah? The Bentley and myself, completely intact. No discorporations."
"Crowley, it's you!"
"'Course it's me. Who did you think it was?"
Aziraphale ignored him. "And your flat. Is it..." His voice dropped into a spy-film whisper. "...clean?"
"Just as I left it."
"Good." There was a pause. "There's no need for you to hurl yourself around the streets of the city at breakneck speeds like that, really. Think of the risk."
Crowley started up his pacing again, widening the circuit through the plant room and back to his office. "Aah, you aren't any fun."
"And don't think I didn't see you shuffle up all of that nice Mr Donough's receipts from today as we were leaving, either."
"Serves him right, for starting us on that endless chain of shops by telling you to 'just have a check round the corner'."
"He was being kind and helpful," Aziraphale said severely.
"Don't tell me, let me guess. You un-shuffled them again for him?"
"Of course I did."
"You definitely aren't any fun."
"Foul fiend," Aziraphale said, but there was no bite to it. There was an even longer pause, and when he resumed, his voice was quieter. "Was it really an endless chain of shops?"
Something in Crowley's chest squeezed a little, and his step faltered. "Nah. Not endless. It ended, didn't it?"
"Yes, but I dragged you simply everywhere."
"Not everywhere. Didn't go to France. Or the Sahara, or anything... "
"And I made you carry all my things."
There was the same kind of uncertain note in Aziraphale's voice as when he'd stood in the doorway that morning and worried over whether or not he should wear Crowley's present. Crowley softened his tone, almost involuntarily. "I don't mind carrying your books for you. "
"Still, I should have been more considerate - "
A jittery warmth was running through him, and he took a deep lungful of the greenery-scented air to settle himself and stopped pacing so he could concentrate on his words. "I can't imagine having spent my afternoon any other way, all right? It was a fine afternoon. So just...shut up and go unpack your things. You haven't unpacked them yet have you?"
"No. " Aziraphale sounded more sure of himself again. "I thought I'd wait to find out whether you got home in one piece, first."
Crowley closed his eyes. "Well...I did." He cleared his throat. "Watch the hinge on one of your snuffboxes. The one with the, the swirly edges on. 'S a bit loose. "
"I will. Well then. I shan't keep you. Good night, Crowley."
He stared at the screen for a long moment after it went dark. And then, on a whim, he walked over to the camellia shrub, parted some of the topmost branches and peered beneath.
There, nestled amongst the glossy, serrated leaves was a small bud, nearly unnoticeable against all the green unless you thought to look for it. It was just starting to split, and to his surprise and also somehow not to his surprise, there was visible inside the tiniest sliver of crystal, celestial blue.
"Stop eavesdropping, you bastards," he growled at the room's leafy occupants, but deep down he didn't really mean it, and the blessed things knew it. Was it possible for an Areca palm to look smug? Because he was pretty certain that that one did.
Crowley very carefully replaced the branches and decided to go to bed, quite sure that he would be greeted by a full bloom in the morning.
Maybe he'd be able to make good on his offer to Aziraphale, after all.