Every day, Crowley made the exact same choices: wear whatever clothing the motel provided or laze around in his (also motel-provided) robe; shower or swim in the pool (which usually warranted a shower afterwards); tea with Balthazar or motel lobby coffee (which was terrible enough to make him want anything else).
Crowley was determined to enjoy his afterlife. It wasn’t much, but with the great looming Empty at the edge of the lot, anything was better than literal nothing. Each day was a gift and the fact that he got to spend his days with Balthazar was icing on the cake, which is to say, most forms of cake were somewhat disappointing without icing, despite being cake.
The problem with his afterlife was that hardly anything really changed. He was stuck in a mediocre motel for eternity, and he couldn’t leave the motel lot without wandering into the Empty. There had been a moment when that odd factory default angel Tirzah had shown up and he’d thought maybe they’d all have something new to talk about, but she’d gone and shacked up with Meg that same day, for all intents and purposes disappearing forever since the two of them made every effort to avoid Crowley and Balthazar entirely.
It wasn’t that he actually wanted to spend any amount of time with Meg or her glorified inflatable doll, but the simple fact of the matter was that life in the Sleepy Hollow Motel ran the risk of growing repetitive. Every day was essentially the same and the available ways to spice things up were extremely limited. Crowley was no expert on healthy relationships, but he was fairly certain boredom likely spelled doom for his budding romance with Balthazar, and that was something he’d rather stave off for as long as possible.
With a sigh, he snatched up his motel-issued robe before going to take a shower. Balthazar was past making remarks about his wardrobe, so what he chose didn’t matter.
Tea with Balthazar was more about the company than the refreshments. Instead of honey and a splash of milk, there were sugar packets and coffee whitener. If anyone had asked him when he was alive, he never would have admitted to drinking orange pekoe tea, and the less said about the paper cups the better. Still, it was infinitely better than the coffee in the lobby, and it gave him an excuse to visit Balthazar every morning.
“If you ask me,” said Balthazar as he rifled through his room’s tea station, looking for something that was never there, “we ought to look into whatever my brother is on, because clearly Gadreel has uncovered the good drugs in this place. He and I might disagree on more than a few things, but I’d be willing to put all that aside for a trip to happyville.”
Crowley had been only tangentially familiar with Gadreel when they were both alive, but he was certain the fellow hadn’t been on the back to nature kick at the time, or at least if he was, he’d hidden it rather well. “Whilst I’m all for chemically altered senses under the proper circumstances, I highly doubt our illustrious host has allowed anything of the sort in his snoozefest of a motel.”
“What then? You think perhaps it was a bonk on the noggin? Gadreel is legitimately hearing Tweety birds?”
“I think…perhaps we’re looking at it all wrong. Remind me, why do you have tea when no one else does?”
Balthazar frowned thoughtfully at his tea station. “Honestly, I don’t know. I’d been here a few days — or at least what passes for days in this place — and I’d been desperate for a cup of something besides that sludge in the lobby. I’d only just woken up, and sleep was still such a novel experience, so I wasn’t entirely sure I wasn’t still dreaming, but there it was beside the microwave. I never once asked for it out loud, I only wanted it in the privacy of my own head. Wait, are you suggesting what I think you are?”
Crossing the room to stand at Balthazar’s side, Crowley smiled and picked up a tea bag. “You said it yourself my first day here, it seems this place is what you make of it. Your tea kettle, those novels, the plums we fermented, the fact that Crom Pregnancy Hospital is always on the first station we check, it’s all connected. Whether it’s the desk clerk accepting silent suggestions or the realm itself conforming to our wishes, something is granting us minor favours.”
As Crowley’s words sank in, a delightfully impish smile spread across Balthazar’s face. “In that case, I suggest we take full advantage. Time to wish upon a star, darling.”
The kettle boiled and for a minute or two neither said a word, mulling over the thought while assembling and steeping tea. It was, however, while attempting to fish his tea bag out of his paper cup with a flimsy plastic swizzle stick, that the thought occurred to Crowley. “They’re not full wishes.”
“What?” Balthazar stopped in the middle of reaching for the sugar packets. “Oh yes, quite. This certainly isn’t the loose leaf tea in china cups with lavender honey I’d been hoping for. So we should temper our expectations then?”
Depositing the wet tea bag in a spare cup — they only got two tea bags a day and he wasn’t about to throw away a chance at another tea later — Crowley shrugged. “I’m saying let’s start small. Focus on how much we’d love honey for our tea and let’s see what comes of it.”
Balthazar echoed his shrug. “Worst case scenario, nothing changes, right?”
Nothing changed that day or the next. By the third day of wishing for honey, Crowley had just about decided it was time to reevaluate their theory. All through his morning routine, he considered the right way to suggest that perhaps he’d been…well, not wrong — he was never wrong — but overly optimistic?
He was about to step out the door when he noticed it. Something moved. Standing stock still, he waited and was rewarded for it. Flying from one dandelion to the next was a fuzzy little bee. Reluctant to look away, Crowley shuffled next door to Balthazar’s room and knocked with his back to the door.
“Good morning, darling,” said Balthazar while opening the door, as he did every morning. “I hope you— Crowley? Might one inquire as to the reason you have your back turned?”
“Shh! Don’t get your knickers in a twist, it’s not you. Look at that.” Crowley pointed to the bee still going about her rounds. “It’s a tad more complicated than anticipated, but I’d imagine if we follow that lovely young thing home, she’ll have what we’re looking for.”
Balthazar stepped into his field of view, but rather than looking excited, he sported an impressive pout. “Now that’s simply unfair. I don’t even know what species of lovely young thing you’re seeing because I can’t see her, but if you’ve all of a sudden decided that you’re okay with sharing, I don’t so much appreciate being excluded. I demand you tell me all about your fantasy lass so I can imagine her into existence with you.”
“You daft git!” Crowley grabbed Balthazar’s face with one hand and pointed again with the other. “Look down at the weeds. See for yourself the wee little workaholic? It’s a honeybee. I have eyes for no one but you, you coconut!”
Balthazar made a soft surprised sound. “Shut the front door, there really is a bee. No need to be insulting, I see it now. The question is, how do we get from here to honey?”
Releasing Balthazar’s face, Crowley took a step and gestured for him to come along. “We’ll need to improvise once we get there, but the first thing we do is follow her until we find her hive.”
“But that could take all day!”
“And? Do we want honey for our tea or not? I think you’ll find it’s rather difficult to harvest honey from a beehive if you have no idea where to find said beehive.”
“I suppose I can’t argue with that.” Without warning, Balthazar started walking away, but reached back for Crowley’s hand. “Let’s go already, she’s on the move.”
Sure enough, while he was talking she’d flown off towards the front of the motel. Crowley accepted Balthazar’s hand and hurried off with him in pursuit of the bee.
Balthazar’s hand felt like it was made to fit with Crowley’s. Like every other time they’d done so, their fingers interlaced perfectly. Every point of contact tingled in the best way, like something he’d never thought he could ever feel again. It was like being pumped full of human blood without the messy injections, which raised all sorts of questions. Though he knew it was impossible, Crowley hoped it would never end.
Their pursuit lasted only as far as the tiny wildflowers beside the main building. Though they were careful at first, stalking her cautiously for fear of frightening her off, the bee seemed oblivious to their presence and simply went about her business of collecting nectar from the motel’s many flowers. With nothing else to do, Crowley rubbed his thumb over Balthazar’s while watching the bee. “If nothing came of it, I wouldn’t be disappointed at how we’re spending our day.”
“Really?” replied Balthazar. “Because I could think of several things I’d rather be doing than standing around in my pajamas uncaffeinated, waiting for a single bee to go home.”
“Do such things still involve the pajamas?” Jumping from hand-holding to the horizontal mambo would be quite a leap, but Crowley wasn’t inclined to say no.
Balthazar gave a little shrug. “In the privacy of my own room, I suppose it doesn’t much matter. I’d simply prefer to be fully attired in public. Alas, here we are. Might I suggest I watch your bee while you go see if my addlepated brother knows anything about this?”
Of course, that made more sense. With a pang of loss, Crowley let Balthazar’s hand slip from his fingers. “Excellent thought. If anyone might know anything about the local fauna, it would have to be Gadreel.”
He glanced back on his way, but Balthazar was only watching the bee, as promised. Of course the sodding tosser wasn’t overwhelmed with human emotion, only Crowley. Just his luck to be in a relationship with an emotionally limited angel when he finally started to feel again.
The lobby was the same as always, with its boring beige walls, plastic plants, and floral patterned armchairs. Nothing ever changed, which made the giant banner extra surprising. It was yellow with black letters which read, “World Honeybee Day” hanging on the wall by the coffee station.
Avoiding the clerk for the moment, Crowley crossed the room to where Gadreel sat with his cup of coffee and newspaper as usual. “Hello again, Lurch.” Plastering on a smile, he indicated the banner. “Any chance you know what that’s about?”
Gadreel looked up from his paper. “Crowley, I wish I could say it was a pleasure to see you again, but you are interrupting my morning routine.”
“Yes, well, we can’t all get what we want. Gimme the scoop on World Honeybee Day and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Ah, I wondered if you would see that as well. Given that it is visible to you, I am forced to assume it was not in response to my desire to see more varieties of creatures here.” He sighed and stood. “Tell me, once-demon, have you figured out your afterlife? I ask because the other of your kind was here first and still has no clue how things work here.”
Crowley couldn’t help but scoff. “Meg? She’d be lucky to figure out her backside with both hands. As for me, I have a working theory which seems to be corroborated by my fuzzy little friend outside.” Seeing Gadreel and thinking about the bee unlocked a thought that practically made his head spin. “Wait, your birds are entirely real to you, aren’t they? The rest of us can’t hear them because we never asked for them. You’re literally wishing your way to a better tomorrow.”
Gadreel smiled. “That is a portion of it, yes. However, if the sign is correct, we will have our honeybee friends for today only.”
“Have you asked the desk clerk what he knows?”
“I had not thought to ask. By all means, go ahead.”
Gadreel didn’t even wait for a response before returning to his archaic newspaper, so Crowley felt justified in walking away without another word. It was only a few paces to the front desk, where the desk clerk sat in all his anachronistic glory. For the first time ever, his wardrobe was different, his usual frilly blue shirt and brown riding coat having changed to yellow and black respectively. Unfortunately, his yellow and black checkered trousers hadn’t changed at all.
Hoping he wasn’t about to get himself tossed into the Empty, Crowley cleared his throat. “Beg your pardon, but I was wondering if you might be able to tell me anything about World Honeybee Day.”
Without looking up from whatever he was writing, the clerk said, “I hope you’re enjoying your stay. Please don’t hesitate to ask if there’s something you need.”
Of all the times for the clerk to go into robo mode…Crowley struggled to contain his frustration. “I need you to tell me everything you know about World Honeybee Day.”
“The pool is open during daylight hours and there’s free coffee in the lobby at all times.” The clerk paused, dipped his quill in ink, then continued, “If you encounter any problems with your room, there is always someone here to help you.”
“Lovely. You’ve been such a big help.” He studied the clerk’s face for any sort of change, but no such luck. “Thanks for nothing.”
Outside, Balthazar had moved from the side of the building to the front, standing a respectable distance from the honeybee who was busily pollinating the flowers in the hanging baskets by the door. Noticing Crowley, he called out, “Anything?”
Giving the bee a wide berth, Crowley walked over to where Balthazar stood. “I learned that Gadreel’s birds are entirely real, but only to him, thus unfortunately, no happy pills. Regarding our tiny hardworking friend, on the other hand, about all I learned was that she’s most likely only visiting for the day.”
Balthazar gave a facial shrug. “In that case, I suppose we’d best sort out what to do if she ever gets around to flying home.”
“If we find the hive? I’d imagine we’ll need some sort of smoke to calm the bees and something to cut away a portion of the hive. That’s assuming, of course, that they’re normal bees. For all we know, they might live in miniature condos and keep their honey in the cupboard.”
“Yes, well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Best to plan for what we can, which means we need to sort out how to make fire. I don’t suppose you can still…” He made a flourishing gesture with one hand, looking hopeful.
Crowley took a few steps in slow pursuit of the bee. “Because I’ve done so many demonic things since we got here? Tell me, how much mojo have you got left? I’m not sure if it’s because I died or if it’s this place, but I haven’t had my powers since I got here, and every day since has been worse.”
Drawing to a halt, Balthazar stared at Crowley in confusion. “Wait, you lost your powers on day one? How is it possible to get worse after that?”
“Really? You’re an angel and you’ve been sleeping and you ask me that?”
After harvesting a little purple wildflower, the bee took off again, but instead of flying to the next flower, she flew straight back towards their rooms. Crowley chased after her, gesturing for Balthazar to follow. “We’re out of time! Let’s go, before we lose her.”
Balthazar chuckled even as he followed. “Who knew a beeline was an actual thing?”
It was hard to run without losing track of the bee, so it was with great relief that they rounded the corner behind their building and found a relatively modern man-made hive in the wooded area immediately behind Crowley’s room. The bee they’d been following hovered a moment, as if to make sure she hadn’t lost them, then crawled inside.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” The words came out before Crowley could even consider them. “It was behind my room the whole time? This whole time!”
Grinning, Balthazar shook his head. “Honestly? I don’t give a Donald Duck how long we had to search. We found it. That’s step one done and dusted.”
“I suppose you have a point.” Crowley sighed. “We never sorted out how to make fire, though, short of rubbing two sticks together like cavemen for hours on end, getting blistered hands with no guarantee of success. This stain on the edge of the universe that calls itself a motel doesn’t even have matchbooks.”
The smile slipped off Balthazar’s face. “No, I suppose it doesn’t.” Clasping his hands, he rubbed one thumb with the other, then stopped and stood taller. “I have a thought. Stay here, watch the hive, make sure it doesn’t disappear if no one’s looking at it. I’ll be right back.”
Between Balthazar’s words and deeds, there was too much to sort through all at once and Crowley had never seen Balthazar act so impulsive. “Wait! Tell me your plan before you run off, you gormless jerboa.”
Balthazar thoroughly ignored the request in favour of dashing off in the direction of his room, leaving Crowley to stare at the hive and wait. Left to his own devices, he came up with plans and discarded them as worthless, the best among them being to microwave something metal and hope for the best. He was considering which metal object to sacrifice when Balthazar returned wearing an obnoxious lime green zip-up hoodie.
“I did wonder when this showed up in my drawer this morning. Now I understand,” said Balthazar as he pulled the drawstrings tight around his face.
Wrenching his brain away from the fashion disaster, Crowley took a step towards Balthazar. “Understand what? Surely you’re not thinking of—”
“Stand back, and whatever happens, don’t try to stop me.” As he spoke, Balthazar pulled his sleeves over his hands, folding them into his palms. “I’m going to need you to be ready to deal with—”
“What?” Crowley interrupted. “No! We could still blow up a microwave.”
Ignoring Crowley like the fool he was, Balthazar covered the ground between him and the hive in a few paces, a determined look on what was visible of his face. Where Crowley might have cautiously pulled out a frame of honeycomb, Balthazar flung off the lid, picked up the whole top box, and ran off with it. Before he disappeared around the front of the building, he was already shaking his head to dodge bees.
They were already dead, so there was no reason for the feeling of dread clamping a fist around Crowley’s heart, but there was no arguing with it. His feet were moving before his brain could hope to catch up, chasing after Balthazar without any regard for his own safety.
He caught up with Balthazar at the pool, where he’d dropped the box of bees and honey into the water. Rather than leave him alone, the remaining bees appeared to be searching for bare skin to sting while Balthazar tried to brush them off, his eyes squeezed shut tight to protect them from the bee that had found his face.
“For the love of Go— whoever, why’d you have to be so buzzing impulsive? This is all my fault. I wished something would change. I wanted—” Crowley sighed. “For the record, I never said I’d stay out of anything.”
Moving slowly and carefully, Crowley stepped forward and unzipped Balthazar’s hoodie, easing it off his head and arms with as little disruption to the bees as possible. Once it was off, he hauled Balthazar around to the other end of the pool and hopped in with him. It never should have worked, but as soon as they jumped in, they were surrounded by a crowd of floating bees. They weren’t even dead or dying, merely swimming like bees couldn’t swim, with no further interest in stinging. At the other end of the pool was a similar group of bees swimming around the hive box which bobbed on the surface of the water.
Crowley reached over to help Balthazar out of the water and found himself the subject of the most intense staring he’d ever seen. He locked eyes with Balthazar and the whole world came to a halt. Nothing else mattered.
Balthazar took Crowley’s hands in his and stroked them with his thumbs. “I can’t tell you how much pain I’m in. I scarcely feel it. Ever since you did this to my hand with yours, I’ve felt like my heart was about to burst forth from my chest so it could be closer to you.”
“You numbskull, I was right here the whole time. If you ever do something that boneheaded ever again…” Trailing off, Crowley freed one hand and began removing bee stingers from Balthazar’s face.
Balthazar flinched but didn’t complain. “If I do you may rest assured it shall be for the noblest cause.”
“Getting honey for our tea is not a noble cause!”
“It was to impress you, you oblivious bobblehead!”
Crowley had no idea what to say or do in response to that. Life was so much easier when he couldn’t feel it. Emotions complicated matters terribly, leaving his brain to flounder so he said such gems as, “I— That’s— You’re so—”
Thankfully, Balthazar seemed to correctly interpret whatever Crowley’s face was saying, because he smiled the most wonderful smile, leaned in and pressed his lips to Crowley’s. It was the softest, sweetest, gentlest kiss Crowley had ever felt.
They were interrupted when something bumped into Crowley’s arm. Muttering an apology, he glanced down to see the top of the beehive. It had floated close enough for Crowley to see that instead of frames of honeycomb inside, there were hundreds of neatly stacked single serving packets of honey.
His motel-issued robe billowed out around him, swirling in the water every time he moved, and showing off his baby blue boxers. Balthazar’s shirt and jeans clung to him like a second skin. Honeybees drifted by, kicking their tiny legs in the water. The entire day was absurd.
He ignored it all in favour of kissing Balthazar again. It was perfect. Barely lifting his lips from Balthazar’s, he whispered, “That’s exactly the sort of change I wished for.”