For a bookshop there were a surprising number of signs at Mr. Fell’s. Bit reminiscent of a flea market really, though the purveyor would calmly kick out anyone who dared to make the comparison. Ancient, rusting, unique little signs, most of which were some polite manner of ‘Do Not Enter.’ And some not so polite. Various bits of metal and wood asked customers to please not descend into the basement, or up onto the second floor, yes, terribly sorry, but this door is off limits as well. A few years back Crowley had purchased one reading “Netflix binge session in progress. KEEP OUT. Not interested unless it involves TACOS. Seriously, only tacos.” He’d hung it on the door leading to Aziraphale’s den. Aziraphale had neatly crossed out ‘TACOS’ and replaced it with ‘crepes.’
These signs were usually more than enough to deter customers from wandering too far past the bookshelves. There were a few nosy individuals though and if they felt the need to poke their head in where it didn’t belong they’d find themselves calmly turning around, suddenly remembering that they’d left the oven on at home. Or had dry cleaning to pick up. Or couldn’t put off walking the dog any longer. More than one confused human had left the bookshop wondering where such an impulse had come from when they had no dog, no dry cleaning, and hadn’t done anything more than order Indian for months.
Only one person was allowed back inside Aziraphale’s shop and he waltzed across that barrier with a swagger.
Today, he carried a plant.
Aziraphale was busy re-organizing his collection of King Arthur mythology—always such a rousing tale!—when Crowley brushed by without so much as a ‘Hello, how are you, angel.’ He was about to call out when Aziraphale noticed the pot in his right hand, hanging from two fingers like Crowley hadn’t a care whether he dropped it or not. Sprouting from the pot was a leafy little organism, a bit yellow around the edges, but otherwise perfectly fine as far as plants went. If anyone chose to look closer though they’d notice the leaves were shaking and might just wonder when a breeze had snuck into the shop.
“Garbage disposal?” Aziraphale asked.
“Yep.” Crowley popped the ‘p.’ The breeze grew stronger.
“Do make it quick for the poor dear.”
Past the old NO ENTRY sign, the stolen STOP sign, the skull and crossbones, the napkin taped to the wall where an old woman had once written "You ought to be ashamed of yourself!!" and handed it off to Aziraphale who then and now still had no idea what he was supposed to be ashamed of. Crowley didn’t give any of them a glance, just sauntered into the back room and shut the door firmly behind him.
Aziraphale went back to his books. A moment later the cacophony started up, startling his customers.
He began whistling a jaunty tune to drown it out.
Plants were, by and large, remarkably intelligent. More-so than many humans, according to (most) angels and demons. Problem was, it was purely an emotional intellect, which proved rather limiting when conversing with humanoid beings. Peace lilies made for excellent companions when one was sobbing after a breakup and needed another living creature nearby, empathizing with your current, emotional state. Not so much when you wanted concrete advice on how to get that ex of yours back.
Every plant in Crowley’s flat understood his anger, his rage, disappointment and disapproval, especially when it was directed their way. Those feelings soaked into their soil and sizzled up their roots, leaving each of them quaking in the pots they’d been planted in. They were beings who understood—and were susceptible to—feelings. Critical thinking didn’t factor into their world view.
If it did, his plants might have wondered why it took Crowley an hour to walk from their room to the kitchen; why they only ever heard the garbage disposal later, like an afterthought.
He’d always come back feeling a little bit better though and that, from a plant’s perspective, was all that really mattered.
“Oh dear. Not precisely the mood I was going for...”
Aziraphale paused a few yards from the entrance to La Locanda, a quaint Italian restaurant where he’d hoped to split the next few hours between the veal piccata and Crowley’s company. Apparently it was the veal that had everyone up in arms though, signs waving in a most aggressive fashion as day slipped slowly into night. Aziraphale caught something about an animal holocaust, a rather red-tinted photograph, and decided that his appetite would not be served by looking any closer.
“Eat pussy not animals,” Crowley read. “Huh. That’s a new one.”
“Not new at all, I’m afraid.”
“What? Don’t want to join them?” Crowley tripped over his own feet as Aziraphale tugged him in the opposite direction. There was an equally lovely French bistro down the way that had just, miraculously, opened up a table for two. “Would have thought you angel types were all over the ‘meat is murder’ spiel.”
“You’re not getting a rise out of me tonight, Crowley, so you can cease such efforts here and now.”
“Wha—tha—me? Deliberately try to—? Angel. You wound me. Truly.”
Crowley went so far as to place a hand over his heart and lift his nose into the air, milking every bit of it that he could. Aziraphale just rolled his eyes. As if the demon didn’t remember the countless conversations they’d had on the subject over a multi-millennium existence. They’d never been that drunk.
“If you recall,” Aziraphale drawled. “I provided the sword that slew the first animal. I’m hardly a neutral voice in this debate.”
Crowley chuckled. “Cooked it too. Adam and Eve with flame seared lion for dinner. Yum, yum.”
“With snake for lunch the next day, if my memory serves.”
“...don’t remind me.”
Aziraphale squeezed his arm, leading them both towards soft candlelight and a distinctly welcome quiet. Humans had a tendency to simplify things most horribly. It was not merely an angel’s job to love all of God’s creatures, but to accept them too. This included accepting that part of humanity’s punishment was to lose the moral ease of The Garden. In all things, including food. They had—with help—committed sin and were thus doomed to grapple with it for the rest of their existence. Or privileged to grapple with it, whichever you preferred. Eve and Adam had spent their morning with peace and plenty about them; their afternoon steeped in the first kill and the consumption of that for survival. Aziraphale had helped them make that transition and God herself had given him the sword with which to do it. He couldn’t very well reject all the consequences of that when the Almighty had created the pointy, killing tool to begin with. Whatever had she expected? That it be used as a particularly dangerous lantern?
Crowley pulled out a chair for Aziraphale, fingers drumming along the edge of his coat. “Bit hypocritical, really,” he said. “Protecting animals is one thing. Telling people to do it by supporting all those horrible labor practices is another.” Crowley paused. “Actually, that thinking might have been Hastur’s doing.”
“And I admit that it’s entirely different once an emotional connection has formed. I adore duck a l’orange as much as the next celestial being, but I certainly wouldn’t want to eat any of the dears we feed at the park.” Aziraphale waved his hand and Crowley’s chair slid out for him too.
“I’d eat those bastards in a heartbeat.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“‘Course I do.”
“Then I’m sure you’re happy to explain your devastation when Herbert didn’t show for the first two weeks of spring.”
Crowley was gifted a reprieve when their waiter arrived, though Aziraphale caught a distinct, “Herbert is different” in between ordering the wine and black olive tapenade.
“Precisely my point,” Aziraphale said and laughed softly at Crowley’s scowl.
The conversation was largely forgotten then, at least until their waiter returned with complimentary salads. Aziraphale thanked him kindly before pushing the plate away.
Crowley raised an eyebrow across the table.
“You said it yourself,” Azriaphale muttered. He suddenly felt quite hot in the cheeks. “It’s different when there’s a bond.”
Aziraphale had stopped eating salads right around the time Crowley had purchased his London apartment.
“Another one. What a blasted disappointment you are.”
Mr. A. Fell’s Bookshop, established 1800, held a number of interesting objects that could in no way be perceived as books. The most notable were the signs of various ages and materials, scattered throughout and hanging over the customers, imposing. Given all the “STOP”s and “TURN BACK”s and “NO ENTRY”s there was a distinct sense that other people weren’t wanted here. A thoroughly silly notion given that this space was, first and foremost, a place of business.
“Go easy on him, won’t you?” Aziraphale called. He didn’t notice the older man over by the cookbooks, gaze bouncing between him and the scrawny fellow carrying a yucca half a head taller than he was, trailing bits of dirt along the hardwood. He was shaking the plant, growling at it, hissing at times and okay, perhaps not a normal place of business after all.
The man slipped away just as Crowley reached the back room.
“I don’t care about your excuses,” he told the yucca, ignoring how the plant shook so hard it sent tremors straight up Crowley’s arms. He kicked the door open with his boot. “No more Mr. Nice Demon. I told you to fiX THOSE BLESSED BROWN SPOTS and you couldn’t even manage that, could you? I’m not responsible for this. You are. So quit your damn shaking.”
Plants, as established, were not critical thinkers. They understood only what they could feel and this poor, browning yucca had felt nothing but Crowley’s fierce misery for the last six miles.
It made opening a door onto love all the more jarring.
The back room was as green as the front room was beige, plants tucked into every nook and cranny available (as well as a few miraculously conjured spaces). They sat on small book piles and hung from mismatched hooks. There were metal watering cans strewn about, various types of plant foods, gardening gloves, fresh pots waiting for growth. Each plant had a tiny name plaque on its front and each had at least one, glaring flaw.
Crowley dumped the yucca next to a kentia palm, sneering at how quickly the shaking ceased.
This was what happened to disappointments. Those who didn’t make the cut. The fallen, one might say. They were cast from the perfection of Crowley’s apartment and forced to live here, in a cramped, chaotic bookshop. So near to humans; so far from the one who’d grown them. Death would have been a mercy, surely. Especially when their only company from here on out would be that of an—
“Angel,” Crowley sighed, feeling two arms slip around his waist. He’d heard the approach but hadn’t done a thing to stop it. “I thought I told you not to coddle them.”
“I’m not, dear. I’m coddling you.”
“Then explain the fertilizer.”
“Oh that?” Aziraphale hummed. “Hardly worth mentioning.”
“The succulents have bows on their pots.”
“Bought for 75% off. I’d never dream of giving them anything other than the cheapest, most insultingly meager gifts. Speaking of, can I offer you lunch?”
Crowley ignored the smile he could feel Aziraphale pressing into his shoulder, in the same way he ignored the tender brush of the yucca’s leaves as he stepped away.
“...Fine. Yeah, guess I could eat.”
Many signs grace the Fell bookshop, the most significant of which had never been seen by a customer. It hung on the inside of that door, a simple bit of wood threaded with twine, hanging from a peg. It was hand carved, though by who no one was really inclined to say.
It read, The Garbage Disposal.