After hanging up his suit in the motel closet, Crowley tied the belt of his complimentary bathrobe and closed the curtains on another rainy day. He would have loved to have been able to say how long he’d been a guest at the Sleepy Hollow Motel, but the passage of time wasn’t something he could easily track. Most earthly motel rooms had a clock on the bedside table, but that space was vacant in his room, and the sky outside appeared to share no connection whatsoever with the time of day.
If it hadn’t been for Balthazar, Crowley would have likely hopped on a motorbike and driven to the Empty ages ago. Balthazar’s insistence on taking things slow had initially come as a surprise, but Crowley was quick to agree that to do otherwise was to squander the gift that was their distraction from eternity. All the same, hearing tales of Balthazar’s life experiences tempted Crowley to show him what he’d missed out on.
It was because of that determination to take things slow that they retained separate rooms. There was no traditional day or night to tell them when to go home, but being able to part ways after spending time together had given Crowley much-needed time to think. He had a great many regrets from not only his mortal life, but from his time as a demon as well, and he appreciated the chance to try once more to get things right.
Still, when Balthazar wanted time to himself and Crowley didn’t want to be alone, his resolve was tested. Gadreel was literally no fun and he could only swim in the pool by himself for so long before the sky began to cloud over, so Crowley’s alone time was mainly a marathon of bad television.
Like everything else about the Sleepy Hollow Motel, the television programs were odd. The shows came close to mimicking human television, but there was always something off about them, something just this side of wrong, as if they were created by an alien observing humanity from afar. Which, he supposed, they were.
Crom Pregnancy Hospital was the perfect example. It was somehow always on TV when Balthazar wanted alone time, so Crowley had been following the plot of the strange sort of daytime soap opera for awhile, and it was everything he’d come to expect of a soap opera and yet not. Doctor Bill Zahar, skilled obstetrician and surgeon, wore the shirt, waistcoat, knee-length pants, and buckled shoes of an educated man from the early 1700s, topped off with a tri-corner hat. He was dating the head nurse, Rod MacGregor, who was a genie and had in the past been intimate with Dane Walther, head of maintenance, while Dane was temporarily a vampire.
He’d initially started watching it because nothing else was on, but as strange as it was, it was also oddly compelling. After awhile, he was worried about missing an episode because he never tuned in at the same times, but it was always the first show he found when channel surfing. The most recent episode had been about Rod’s lingering feelings for Dane while carrying Dr. Zahar’s baby — the male pregnancies had taken some getting used to, but it was no weirder than the other half dozen weird things in each episode — and Crowley was looking forward to seeing the good doctor’s reactions.
Balthazar said he was going for coffee with Gadreel, presumably to discuss angel things, so Crowley knew he’d have plenty of time for the latest episode. Remote in one hand and coffee in the other — he still relied on Balthazar for tea, so he was stuck with coffee from the lobby — he settled in on his bed to watch. When he turned on the TV, however, Crom Pregnancy Hospital wasn’t on.
Thinking maybe he was somehow on the wrong channel, Crowley flicked through everything currently on, but it was all infomercials and one weather report. (Apparently the weather in Limbo was still either stormy, cloudy, sunny, or pastoral, and subject to change without notice.) He ran through every channel twice more, just to be certain, but reluctantly came to the conclusion that for once, his new favourite show wasn’t on. With a sigh, he turned off the TV and dropped the TV remote on the bedside table, only to discover a small stack of paperback novels which hadn’t been there when he’d picked up the remote.
There had never been books in his rooms before, so Crowley eagerly spread them out on the bed for a better look. The covers uniformly all resembled Harlequin romance novels from the 1980s, but with titles such as The Sexy Affair, The Blood!, and Dangerously! Seduction, they were anything but your typical Harlequin romance. The illustrations on the covers showed characters from Crom Pregnancy Hospital, though, and a quick scan of the blurb on the back cover of Dangerously! Seduction confirmed it. His room had given him risqué paperback fiction for his favourite show.
Setting the others aside, Crowley settled in with Dangerously! Seduction, coffee forgotten on the bedside table. If he got started immediately, he might possibly finish before Balthazar came knocking.
Time probably passed, but Crowley certainly didn’t keep track of it. Engrossed in the story, everything else ceased to exist for him. Nothing mattered but the drama unfolding at his fingertips, and oh, what a drama it was.
Taking a seat in the room’s only chair, Rod gazed at the still form of Dane laid out on the bed before him. “Your brother, bless his soul, is calling me as I speak. Make a deal, bring you back. It's exactly what I was talking about, isn't it? It's all become so... expected.
“When I suggested you take that drink, I didn't know this was going to happen. Not really. I mean, I might not have told you the entire truth. But I never lied. I never lied, Dane. That's important. It's fundamental.”
Crowley sat bolt upright in bed. It would be an understatement to call Crowley an intelligent person. With over three hundred years of experience, he had knowledge and wisdom to back up the quick wit he’d been born with. That said, it’s difficult to recognize one’s own story from the outside, so it took an embarrassing hundred and fifty pages to realize Rod MacGregor’s story was his own. All the details were changed, but the broad strokes were all the same. Dangerously! Seduction was the story of how he had seduced Dean into taking on the Mark of Cain.
Skimming over the back covers of the other novels revealed something similar was happening there. The Sexy Affair was the uncensored tale of his summer with Dean, The Blood! told of the struggle to rid Dean of the Mark of Cain (or in this case, to cure Dane of vampirism), Mistress Man’s Baby was the whole fiasco of taking baby Amara to get back at Dean for leaving him, except Amara was Dane and Roderick’s half-vampire, half-genie child. The titles could use some work, but it was all there.
With that discovery, it was a simple matter to apply his new knowledge to the TV show. Leaving aside the pregnancy and the activities leading to it — it seemed like whoever created the show was oddly fascinated with babies — Rod’s relationship with Dr. Bill Zahar was like his own with Balthazar. (Of course, thinking of them both in the same sentence made it painfully, embarrassingly obvious.)
Setting the books back on the bedside table, Crowley quietly considered what he was being told. The book made it quite clear he’d been wrong to trick Dean into taking on the Mark of Cain, but he knew that already. The summer that followed had been an exercise in delusion and the entire thing with Amara had been pure idiocy, but he’d known that as well.
“I only knew how to read the characters in the show after reading one of the books, so what if the books were meant to open my eyes to the purpose of the show, which is of course…” Crowley got up to pace in his limited space. “I might be meant to tell Balthazar about my lingering feelings for Dean, but given Balthazar’s carefree attitudes on all things romance, I doubt it. It’s also possible I’m being told to examine my history with Dean and leave Balthazar alone, in which case, I’ve learned my lesson and bugger that.”
Crowley’s thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. Refastening his robe which had come undone, he opened the door to reveal Balthazar with a book in his hand. “Balthazar. I thought you were with Gadreel.”
“Yes, well,” replied Balthazar, “one can only spend so much time with someone whose idea of fun is finding patterns in the stucco ceiling. No, I’ve been reading. It seems our host has seen fit to provide me with a barely fictional rendition of my time on Earth post-apocalypse-that-wasn’t, set in the bizarre universe of Crom Pregnancy Hospital.”
The book in Balthazar’s hand seemed to be called Surgery Seduction, and was indeed illustrated in the same style as the ones by Crowley’s bed. “Wait, you watch Crom Pregnancy Hospital?”
“Well, it’s not like we have cable here.” Balthazar looked Crowley up and down, then slipped past him into the room. “At any rate, have you, by any chance, noticed that the characters on the show aren’t exactly fictional?”
“I had observed something to that effect, yes,” replied Crowley, ensuring his robe was properly closed.
His eyes darting over to the stack of books by the bedside, Balthazar turned back to face Crowley with an easy smile. “Oh good, that simplifies matters. To cut right to it, I believe we’re being told to procreate.”
The thought had crossed Crowley’s mind, but he’d never taken it seriously. “That’s absurd! For one, the human body isn’t built that way, but more importantly, could you really see us as parents? Been there, done that, the boy hated me.”
“What else could it be?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps we’re being told to work on our communication skills? Be more open and honest with one another? Stop wasting time and kiss already?”
“No, I still think it’s the baby thing. Whoever wrote Crom Pregnancy Hospital is beyond fascinated with babies.”
Crowley couldn’t exactly argue what he’d been thinking himself. “Valid point. To which I retort, to hell with Crom Pregnancy Hospital. It’s our afterlife, and we certainly don’t need books or a show to tell us how to live it.”
“Well, I do think I would look dashing in the garb of Dr. Zahar, but otherwise I happen to agree with you.” Balthazar indicated the stack of books with a wave of his hand. “When you feel up to it, we can swap books and then discuss how things really went, but for now, I’d love for you to go for a walk with me.”
“Forgive me, darling, but you don’t strike me as the stroll through the garden sort of romantic.”
“No, I don’t suppose I am. I found a plum tree around the back side of the lot and I was thinking we could pick all the plums, press them for juice, and ferment it into something that might possibly be entertaining.”
Though Crowley was still wearing a terrycloth robe, it wasn’t like there was anyone watching whose opinion mattered. Double-knotting the robe’s belt, he replied, “Can’t be worse than the complimentary coffee from the lobby.”
“That’s the spirit!”
Balthazar held out a hand which Crowley, hesitating slightly, accepted. Their fingers interlaced, sending an entirely unexpected thrill through him. Perhaps there was something to taking things slowly after all.
In the lobby of the Sleepy Hollow Motel, the desk clerk had a long wait between new arrivals — it wasn’t every day an angel or demon threw aside eternal enmities to do the right thing — so he had some time to fill. While part of his consciousness tended to the upkeep of the motel, the portion of his self behind the desk put pen to paper, exploring the many oddities of humanity through fiction.
Humming softly, the clerk wrote faster than any mortal could ever dream of, putting the finishing touches on another novel while the occupants of rooms five and six clasped hands. The clerk hoped the pair would continue to display affection for one another, so to that end, the clerk would continue to offer them the traditional forms of human romantic media. There had never been a baby born in Limbo, but the clerk was patient and had all the time in the world.