Blurb: Crowley decides he needs to renovate his flat.
The day after he was supposed to have dissolved in a tub of holy water and had instead stood comfortably in a column of hellfire while an archangel had told him to die, Crowley critically studied his flat.
It was nothing but clean, modern lines in varying shades of black with some charcoal grey for relief. Furniture that looked too complicated to be sat on, equipment that looked too simple to be used, it would have made numerous home and garden magazine editors weep with joy, but just now, it left him cold. With the exception of his greenery, it all reminded him of something, somewhere he'd rather not be again.
With a low growl he grabbed a potted plant and tucked it unceremoniously under his arm, muttering vague and ominous threats as he went down the stairs to the street. Warning that terrified ivy - who really couldn't imagine what she has done to earn her master's wrath - that if so much as a mote of potting soil spilled inside the Bentley, that she would be destroyed leaf by leaf, he then left her to her own devices and sped to a nondescript bookshop in Soho.
The shop's front door, naturally, was locked. The lock, naturally, proved no impediment to Crowley.
"Angel," he huffed, setting the pot on the floor just to the side of the door. The ivy wouldn't get in anyone's way there unless she was looking for trouble.
"Ah, Crowley," greeted the shopkeeper from the back room. "Come in, I'll make you a cup of tea."
Crowley didn't exactly want tea, but Aziraphale hadn't offered him a choice of something better. And he knew that a teacup was often just something to hold or set aside while people talked. And he had a question he wanted to ask; might as well ask it while the angel was sipping his morning cuppa.
Post-end-times being what they were, Aziraphale didn't waste any miracles on the morning ritual and Crowley had grown impatient by the time the cup and saucer was placed for him at the table.
"What brings you here so early?" asked his friend. "I thought we might head out for lunch later but it's barely breakfast time."
"Angel, you've been to my flat," he said, getting quickly to the heart of the matter. "What does it remind you of?"
Aziraphale thought carefully but wouldn't hazard a guess. "What do you mean, what does it remind me of? What are my choices?"
Even behind his dark glasses, it was obvious he narrowed his eyes. "Somewhere you've been before."
The angel winced. "Can you give me a hint?" At the demon's nonplussed frown, he said, "I'm sure it will come to me, just let me think on it."
Aziraphale then mumbled his way through several possibilities, each one more unlikely than the last. At each obviously wrong and increasingly outrageous suggestion, the demon's mood darkened.
"It's Heaven, Angel!" Crowley exclaimed at last. "My flat is just like Heaven!"
Aziraphale shut his mouth momentarily as that observation sunk in.
"But your flat is so dark -" the angel began to politely argue.
"That is just swapping black for white," he snapped. "It's like we hired the same interior decorator."
It was dawning on Aziraphale just how many different ways that offended his friend. He tried to think of something comforting to say but nothing seemed right. For example, if he pointed out that Crowley had originated in Heaven, it would only remind him of the Fall. If he complimented Crowley's taste as being literally divine, he would only see an unflattering similarity with certain archangels he despised.
"Well, but if you like it, it shouldn't matter who else likes it or not," said Aziraphale in consolation.
"If I like it!" Crowley repeated, appalled. "If I like it? Angel, I never liked it. That was never the point! Rather, it fit the image I wanted people to have of me."
"Really?" asked the angel. "Because I don't think you ever have anyone round to your flat. I mean, I know I'm the exception, but I think it proves the point. How would people see it to have it confirm their impressions of you?"
Crowley scowled. This calm reasoning was not what he was in the mood for.
"There is only one thing for it, Angel," he declared. "I must redecorate the entire flat. Floor to ceiling, down to the studs, total renovation, not a single thing shall remain. It will look completely different before I am done with it. I need to keep my plants here if you don't mind, can't have them use drywall dust as an excuse not to thrive." He folded over the arm of his chair to glare a warning at the ivy trembling innocently by the front door.
"That sounds like a serious undertaking," his companion said. "What style do you think you might go with since your current style is out?"
The demon's whole aesthetic had always been cool to the point of coldness which had apparently been synonymous with Heaven's own clean to the point of sterile look. It simply wouldn't do anymore.
"I don't know," he said, sprawling in defeat all over his chair. "Something else. Colorful. Patterned. Warm. Messy lines. Messy everything."
His eyes peered over the top of his glasses and he took in the sprawl and disorder of Aziraphale's back room. It was full of a subdued clutter, comfortably lived in. Perhaps messy was the wrong word - there might be dust but nothing was ever out of place - but each and every thing was a connection to the human world, a story, an anchor, a source of warmth. Or at least there had been until the building had gone up in flames and been replaced almost exactly by a well-intentioned 11-year-old Anti-Christ.
"That will be extensive, and time-consuming if you don't miracle it," said the angel. "I look forward to seeing it when finished. And if you need a place to stay or even just to store some things, you are always welcome here, you know. More so now than before, even. As it turns out, Adam Young didn't quite put it all back the same way. I have a few new first editions -" He stopped. The first editions weren't what was important right now. "But he also gave me a spare bedroom. I didn't see the point at first since I so rarely use the one I have, but... do you suppose it was meant for you?"
Crowley let his head loll back. Who knew what the Anti-Christ intended? Or God for that matter? He was getting a little tired of the constant ineffability. "Well, let's see it and decide after," he said.
Aziraphale's face brightened. He'd known the demon too long to find his facade offensive when what really mattered was obvious if one knew how to look. And Crowley was obviously agreeing to look, which meant that he was willing to stay. "Yes, quite! Let's!" He sprung from his chair and led the way to the steps.
All the way upstairs and through the hall he kept up an excited patter. Crowley slunk close behind until the angel stopped expectantly in
front of a new door. "Go on, then. Open it," he cajoled cheerfully.
Crowley grasped the knob and turned. The door swung open easily. The room inside was a mix of fabrics and textures, darker and richer than the subdued palette in the rest of the home. A rug of Persian design muted his footfalls. A closet door hung barely ajar, offering a glimpse of the space inside with dark suits already hung and waiting. A brass étagère stood waiting to be filled with potted plants. The bed was piled with luxurious blankets and pillows and Crowley rolled his shoulders to fight the urge to flop onto the middle of that readymade nest and see if it was as soft as it looked. A black headboard grounded it and he could see soft lines carved into it that almost resembled feathers.
There was an air of familiarity with everything, as if he had seen each thing before at some point over the last 6,000 years, while performing some miracle or temptation or simply enjoying life on Earth.
"Cheeky little son of a -"
"Crowley!" Aziraphale interjected.
"- of a gun." Crowley glared at his friend. Where was the trust? "He's the Anti-Christ, Angel. And a scamp. I'm only annoyed that he has figured me out faster than I have."
He walked to the window and flicked open the drapes. Before he could inspect the view, his eyes were drawn to the bedside table and a curious little box sitting on it. The box had a small display and a knob, with wires sticking out of the back. With a twist of his wrist, he turned it on. The display read a number. He twisted the knob back and forth, and the number went up and down.
"What is it?" asked Aziraphale from the doorway.
"A mattress warmer," Crowley breathed with reverence. He left it on, planning on testing it out as soon as it could warm up.
He finally looked outside. "Zira, where have you seen that building before?" There was something in the scene from the window that didn't sit right with him.
Aziraphale came and dutifully looked out the window. "That's not in this neighborhood," he frowned thoughtfully. "Wait a moment. Isn't that across from your flat in Mayfair?"
Crowley's face went momentarily slack with surprise. This was - nearly exactly - the scene from his own bedroom window should he ever bother to draw the shades. He took a step back, then a few more, then flung open the closet and stared at the clothes hanging inside. They were his clothes, his suits, his shirts, his jackets and coats, his ties. His shoes were arranged neatly on the floor. The door was in the wrong place but this wasn't just his closet in Aziraphale's new spare bedroom, this was his closet in his own bedroom from his own flat back in Mayfair.
He looked all the way to the end of the small space and saw another door.
"You have got to be kidding me," he muttered under his breath as he shouldered past the hangers to the other door, knowing what he would see yet refusing to believe it. With one final door thrown open, he let out a strangled sound.
"Crowley, is everything all right?" Aziraphale called, soon following his friend into the small space to offer whatever aid was needed.
"He connected the closet," Crowley said hoarsely.
"Connected the… Oh, like a secret passageway," observed the angel as he peered into the demon's spartan bedroom. Coming from him, it sounded just like a normal 11-year-old's fantasy to have a secret door linking their room with some other place. "This will be jolly convenient, you know, when you need to move your plants. Practically perfect. Tick-"
"Don't say it, Angel," Crowley cut him off.
"Say what?" Aziraphale's eyes were wide and blue with innocence.
Crowley just looked at him through the dark lenses.
"Well, whatever it is, I'm sure I won't say it," the angel said primly. "So, what shall we do next?"
Crowley could feel his schedule practically write itself. "Pajamas. Nap. Lunch - you choose the place, my treat. Go for a walk and pick up some decorating magazines while we're out, maybe a sledgehammer. Move the plants. A second nap if there's time. Dinner. And we'll see where the night takes us."
Soon after, he was indeed clad in his pajamas, alone in his new room, buried under the warm blankets of his new bed. Even the scent of the sheets - just enough like malt and freshly baked bread and old books that he knew it was intentional - was perfect. As comfortable as he was, he knew his angel was downstairs, patiently trying to sell no books until he could close the shop for lunch. Which only made the whole thing seem more perfect. How perfect could something be until it was truly divine?
He had spent less than a quarter hour in the spare room thus far and he already knew there was no going back, no wanting to go back. He also knew that the angel wouldn't mind, would rather prefer it if Crowley made this space permanently his own, that they could walk upstairs at the end of the night and part ways in the hall instead of at the front door of the shop as Crowley shimmied into the Bentley. Of course, both of them knew that neither was willing to admit that part out loud, that a sleight of hand was necessary although it only needed to be as believable as Aziraphale's old magic act for the both of them to nod in acceptance He needed to get his plants out - after lunch - and then take a sledgehammer to one or two walls until there was enough mess that no one would expect him to stay in his old flat until the renovation was completed.
And he felt certain as he drifted off to sleep that it never would.