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            In 1967, Crowley buys a plant.

            It’s a little thing. Some sort of succulent; doesn’t matter. It’s green, it’s alive, in a pot he can fit his fingers around until they overlap. The plant has broad, thick leaves full of moisture. Full of life.

            He takes it home, though his home is nothing but an empty, newly acquired flat. There’s very little in it, and it will likely stay that way. He doesn’t intend to be there very much, but a few “homey” touches, a few bits of pleasantry won’t be enough to register on Hell’s radar.

            It’s just one, tiny plant. The soil is dry, so Crowley waters it. He doesn’t know how to take care of plants, but it seems nice to be able to. To be responsible for something alive. He’s spent too much time being – or feeling – responsible for deaths, for endings. He needs a beginning.

            So, in 1967, he buys a plant. It doesn’t need to be watered very often, but he’s careful to get it the right amount.

            After a couple of months, the plant dies. It takes him a week to realize he left it without any natural sunlight.

            He buys another one. This one gets water and sunlight. Soak and dry, soak and dry. It looks a little sickly, but much to his surprise, it gets bigger until he needs to buy a new pot and transfer it over. He buys some new soil, repots it, and watches it continue to grow.

            On the radio, one day, he hears that some people play music for their plants. People are doing studies to find out what music helps plants best. The old gardener on the talk show says she just likes to talk to them, and that works best. It’s almost like therapy, she exclaims, to the laughter of her co-host.

            When Crowley gets back to the flat, he takes the plant and places it in front of him on his desk.

            He clears his throat.

            “Hello,” he says.

            This is ridiculous. He puts the plant back.

            A few days later, he tries again.

            “I’m...I’m doing a thing, soon,” he says. “I asked a…a friend for something, but he didn’t want to give it to me. And now I’m trying to get it anyway. I know he’d be upset if he knew.”

            The plant says nothing, being but a young succulent.

            “I’m doing the right thing,” he murmurs, sliding a finger over the terracotta rim of the pot. “Well, not the ‘right’ – whatever. I just…I dunno.”

            After some minutes, he pushes back from his chair and puts the plant back.

            He takes to talking to it frequently. Not every day – he’s not even there every day, and the plant only needs to be watered each week or so – but often enough.

            “I’m still mad at him, you know,” he tells the plant one day.

            “I wish he’d talk to me,” he says another.

            “Did I ever tell you about the church?” he asks, as though the plant might remember. He tells it anyway.

            Weeks and months go by. He spends more time away than before, but he still talks to it when he’s there.

 

            One day, when he returns to the flat, it’s late at night, which isn’t unusual. He sits on the throne, slouches forward onto the desk, and carefully places a thermos beside the plant. The succulent has gotten larger and might need to be repotted again.

            “He gave it to me,” Crowley says, voice scratchy, weak. “After all that. So afraid, and he gave it to me.” There’s awe there, and fear. “And he told me…”

            The succulent doesn’t find out what Crowley was going to say next. The demon stands up wobblily and moves the sketch on the wall to reveal a safe that wasn’t there before. The number is 4004. It’s a palindrome, and a number he’s unlikely to forget for multiple reasons. Multiple beginnings.

 

            Crowley gets caught up working on the M25. Spends more time in Hell, and the frustrations of bureaucracy. Hell doesn’t understand his ideas, but they let him do what he wants. He sees his friend more often, and he got what he wanted, so he should be happy.

            He comes back to the flat one day to realize he’s been away for over two months. The plant is brown and yellow. The sight of it sets off something ugly deep inside him, and he picks up the pot to look at what became of his neglect. Nothing flourishes when left alone; it needs attention and care or it becomes bitter, and withers away.

            He would need to be stricter with himself, to keep a plant alive.

            Multiple new greeneries enter the flat at once, and Crowley begins gathering them. He steals a book on plant care, since they all have different needs, different amounts of water and sunlight, types of soil and fertilizer. He continues to talk to them – all of them, now.

            “He always says that,” Crowley tells them as he repots a big, leafy thing, “‘I am an angel, you’re Fallen.’ Dunno how much he means it, what he means by it. Not like I meant to Fall.” He glares around at the plants with a huff. “You just die with neglect, yeah? You’ll flourish no matter what I say. People aren’t like that. You rough ‘em up, they’re bound to remember it.”

            The plants do not reply. They are still plants.

            “I could say anything I want to you, and you wouldn’t know. Or care.” Crowley grunts as he shifts a heavy pot closer to the wall, dusting the soil from his hands. He refuses to wear gardening gloves because they’re supremely unstylish. 

            A few days later, as he’s watering them, he suddenly says, “There are some things I couldn’t say out loud, not even to plants.” The plants don’t know what he means by this, but there is something dangerous behind it.

            “What would Hell think, if any of them saw you?” Crowley asks them some weeks later. “Beelzebub. Dagon. Whoever. Bet they’d think I’d gone soft, taking care of you all.” He looks contemplative. “You can’t grow if you aren’t taken care of.” It only makes sense, after all. It’s just logic.

            He finds a plant with spots on it. He doesn’t understand why; he’s done everything right. There’s no reason for it to deviate, but it does. Now that he’s looking around, there are several spots. More than there should be.

            “What’re you playing at?” he says, and it's light, even teasing. He knows he needs to encourage them to do better. The perfect water and sunlight aren’t doing it. Maybe he needs to…talk to them differently.

            “You shouldn’t have spots,” he states. “No decent reason for you to have them. You can do better than this. I know you can.”

            Two weeks later, most of the spots are still there. He shifts their places and tries again. “Seriously. I’ll be very disappointed if you don’t clear up. I don’t want to keep a bunch of half-dead plants around.” He fixes them with a scowl, like a parent who is not so much mad as disappointed. Talking to plants stopped feeling weird many years ago. Maybe he’s insane, who knows.

 

            He enters the flat slowly, one day, and wanders to the kitchen. He downs a bottle of something rancid in one go. Death. Ending things. All he’s good for – bad for – nowadays. All he’s ever been decent at. What the point of him, anyway? He goes around on Hell’s strings. He just wants to cause a little mischief, poke a little fun. Humans have it bad enough. Then he gets orders for things like this. He can’t stand it. He hates it. He hates that he does it. He hates that he’s so weak.

            He glances toward the plant room. Can’t even take care of some bloody plants correctly.

            Taking short, careful steps, Crowley enters the plant room. He’s got a few dozen, and he’s been caring for them for nearly a decade now. None have ended up so poorly as that very first attempt, but a few are sickly. There are any number of reasons why they might be in a bad way, but he’s the one who takes care of them.

            They could be perfect if he only did better.

            “You.” He gazes at the worst of the bunch. A small, ungrateful thing. Never grew since he got it, just got worse every day. Not thriving under these conditions, and that’s Crowley’s fault for not taking better care of it. He picks it up and decides he doesn’t want anything to do with it. Why should he be trying so hard? It’s not like it matters. Nothing he does matters.

            He overturns the pot in the garbage disposal, feeling nothing, absence, void. Just a plant, after all. He returns the empty pot to its place with a loud clink of ceramic on metal, watching the other plants. “That’s…what will happen to you,” he says slowly through clenched teeth, “if you don’t do better.”

            He means that he needs to do better. How well the plants do depends on his own care, after all.

            He’s stricter, after that. He disposes of plants regularly if they aren’t satisfactory. With the new ones he brings in to replace them, the first thing he does is make his expectations clear. That’s the only way anything can work out – boundaries. Clear boundaries.

            “Perfection,” he says. “There’s no reason you can’t be perfect, so you will be.” He only needs to try.

            “You can do better,” he tells them as he waters them, repots them, spritzes them.

            “Don’t disappoint me,” he orders on another day.

            “If you don’t meet my expectations,” he hisses, “I have no use for you.” Because what’s the point of someone who can’t even meet their own expectations? He – the plants can do better.

 

            It’s been multiple years since he’s had to throw out a plant. Crowley’s been more meticulous, more careful. Everything in this room is green, a room just for the plants. The conditions are perfect. There is never a reason why a plant should have a spot. He’s created the ideal space for them to flourish, and he sticks to his schedule exactly on when they need their care. 

            On a regular day, he finds one with a spot. It’s a small thing. No more than a finger’s width, yellowed edges. But something in him seethes at the sight.

            “What’re you playing at?” he snarls, and there’s nothing teasing about it now. “You had every reason to do right. Everything fucking handed to you. All you had to do was what you were told, and now look at you.” He grips the spotted leaf. “Imperfect.”

            He growls, tears the leaf off, taking part of the stem with it. He can’t tear off the bad parts without destroying the whole thing. All of it is bad, unsalvageable, pointless. He takes the plant and dumps it down the garbage disposal, the whirring and chopping of leaves somehow soothing. An erasure of his own inadequacy.

            But no, he realizes. He didn’t do anything wrong. He was perfect. The plant – the plant just couldn’t cut it. That wasn't his fault. And if it couldn’t match up under flawless conditions, and with clear expectations – well.

            His plant room was going to be perfect. There was no room for error. Anyone who didn’t do as he required – he was going to toss them away. Didn’t matter. They were just plants.

            “I expect better from you,” he growls at them. He takes slow, certain steps past them, like an inspector. His sunglasses are off so they can see the truth of his eyes, the depth of his anger and something that might be hurt. “I’m only doing this for your own good,” he reminds them. “I’m caring for you, so I. Expect. Results.”

 

            He is at the flat more often nowadays. More time spent in London. More time spent with his friend, calling him, waiting to call him. He used to spend his free time around town or out driving. He still does, sometimes, but he takes to lounging in his flat on many a barren evening, staring at walls. The plants stay in line. 

            Armageddon is coming, and his days are busy with raising the Antichrist child. He diligently waters the plants regardless. They will not wither under his care – or rather, they will not wither because of him. If they wither, it will be entirely their own fault.

            They watch Crowley douse one of his own, and they watch the puddle sizzling on the floor. They couldn’t have known water could do that. None of the plants present have seen the thermos on the desk, tartan-patterned, though one is in an old pot, old enough to have borne witness that first night.

            It is not long after that Crowley returns, and for the first time, he brings someone else.

            Crowley did not tell the plants about Aziraphale, not in so many words. It wouldn’t do for them to know more than the fact that he has a friend, one that he never named. He can’t explain why and has never had someone he needed to explain it to.

            “I didn’t know you kept plants,” Aziraphale says, intrigued, confused, tired.

            “Not important right now,” Crowley says breezily. “Used the, er, insurance, by the way.”

            Crowley glares at the plants as Aziraphale, pale-faced, fusses and miracles away the holy water. But the demon’s heart’s not in it. His heart isn’t in anything. He left his heart somewhere along the way and feels nothing whatsoever as he gazes over his Garden.

            Not a leaf out of line, or they were cast out. No mercy. Who had time for mercy?

 

            A few days later, Crowley comes back alone. He is tired, but happy. The world is still here, after everything. It all could have gone so, so wrong. It did, in a timeline that no longer mattered, or existed. Things that were destroyed were brought back. Everything was back to how it should be.

            He peeks into the plant room absentmindedly…and sees something that shouldn’t be there.

            A pot. A pot that should be empty. A pot he’d emptied of its inhabitant not a week past. It’d had a black spot, which was unacceptable, and he threw it away, watched it become mulch and felt the shuddering of the others at the crunching sound of torn leaves.

            It was back. The spot was still there.

            Crowley walks carefully toward it, steps no longer sure. It didn’t make sense. Adam, the Antichrist, brought back the bookshop, the angel. That made sense. Those were things that should exist, need to exist for life to have any meaning.

            What is the point in an imperfect plant?

            For a moment, he considers tossing it again. He bends down, picks it up. Holds it and looks at its glossy leaves. It is a beautiful plant. There really wasn’t anything wrong with it, aside from that one little bit on a leaf. Perhaps he’d been hasty in tossing it, but he knows those surface-level imperfections go to the roots. Besides, he has a strict regime here. Might give the other plants ideas if he lets this one stay.

            He draws in a sharp breath, staring at the plant. It’s young. One of his most recent additions, bought it an optimistic spurt that the Earth would be around long enough for him to watch it grow. And yet, he hadn’t thought twice before destroying it, because it hadn’t met his expectations.

            He closes his eyes.

            Could he really destroy it? Again? Why did the Antichrist seem to think it was supposed to still be here? Why does this damn plant deserve a chance, a chance that Crowley had never been fucking given?

            He opens his eyes and blinks a few times.

            He puts the plant back where he kept it before.

            Crowley remembers that he is supposed to talk to his plants. But it’s been so long. He hasn’t talked to them in ages. Really, he hasn’t. He’s been doing…something else, hasn’t he? Something that makes him feel dirty to remember, even though it was just a brief time ago. His stomach curdles with something like shame, or guilt. Years of it.

            Why does he exist to cause more hurt? Can he stop?

            “Hello,” he whispers, and his voice cracks on that one word. He doesn’t know what to say now, so he reverts to the place his brain usually goes when left to its own devices. “There’s – there’s this angel,” he tells the plant. The others can hear, but he’s talking to this one. “He’s. He’s very important to me. B-Been by my side a long time, in the ways he could. We couldn’t really, not properly, not till recently, but…”

            He clears his throat. He doesn’t want to cry, but he can feel the tide of emotions threatening him. “He’s not perfect,” he says achingly. “I don’t mind that. I’m...I’m not perfect either, or I wouldn’t have been...have been…”

            A rebellious tear slips free.

            “I’m not perfect,” he repeats, barely enough air in his lungs to make the words that form on his lips. His throat burns, but he speaks. “And he doesn’t mind that, you know. He doesn’t mind that.”

            He lets the tears fall freely, splashing on the leaves, and his hands flat over the cool, silver surface of the table, and he shakes apart with an understanding of where he is, and what he’s done. Not under the influence of Hell. They never told him to buy a plant in 1967. This had been his choice.

            God. Satan. Someone. Anyone. He is making a different one now.

            Crowley is safe, in this new, old world. He has never been safe before. Safe to make choices. Humans were only exiled once, after all. He looks around at his garden through bleary eyes and decides that these plants will always be safe. They will always be safe here.

            He’s not casting anyone out ever again.

 

            The next time he waters the plants, he talks to them. His sunglasses are off so they can see the truth of his eyes, the depth of his regret. He tells them more about Aziraphale. He tells them about himself. Everything he can think to, he tells them. “There are some things I shouldn’t be saying to plants,” he tells them once, with a bit of a shy smile, and there’s nothing dangerous behind it. He just means he needs to say these things to someone who can reply. He’ll tell the plants about it after.

            He tells the plants they are safe, and he means it.

            He discovers there are people he can talk to. He can’t tell them everything, but he can tell them enough, and they can reply. He can’t abuse them like the plants. But he tells them about the plants, and they listen. It doesn’t solve everything, but it helps. He has to work for it. But it helps.

            It’s many months before Crowley feels he can bring Aziraphale over, to see the plants properly. The angel asks after them, but Crowley isn’t ready. The plants aren’t ready. They can take all the time they need to become so.

            When Aziraphale finally does come, none of them shake when Crowley walks in. There is distrust, and long will be. He doesn’t expect them to trust him or forgive him for the cycle of abuse he invented. Not now, or yet, or ever. He doesn’t know if he deserves something like that, even from plants. But he will care for them, anyway, because he can’t change what he’s done, only what he does now.

            “These are wonderful, my dear!” Aziraphale exclaims, walking through the room with a big smile, hands clapped together. “You must take very good care of them. They’re just perfect.”

            Several plants have spots, torn bits, asymmetry. Some have grown sideways. A few have shed dead leaves on the ground. They are still verdant, and gorgeous, and they don’t look the way Crowley expected them to.

            “I know,” he replies. He doesn’t know, not yet. But he feels sure he will, in time. He takes a deep, steadying breath, and, gently trailing a finger over a broad leaf, adds, “I…didn’t always take the best care of them.”

            “Oh?” Aziraphale turns to him, and perhaps he can sense how hard this is for Crowley, because he smiles and steps a little closer to take his hand. And then, it’s a bit easier to tell him, even as the shame burns his throat. He reminds himself that it’s different, now. He’s different. They both are. The world is.

            Aziraphale listens and doesn’t interrupt. After, he and Crowley talk to each plant, one at a time, and Crowley apologizes. He doesn’t know if they forgive him. But Aziraphale has, and does, and he’s not alone anymore.

 

            A year after the world didn’t end, Crowley buys a plant. It’s called an exotic angel, green with splotches of sunset, and pink veins running through. Leafy, textured, a little strange. He sets it on his desk and sits before it.

            “Hello,” he says softly.