~1487~

Crowley hummed when a knock sounded at his door. He lay sprawled on the rich velvet coverlet of his large wooded bed, glaring effectively at a sprig of nightshade in a bud vase, and he didn't really feel like moving.

The knocking rang out again.

Crowley narrowed his eyes and slithered from his bed, deciding that he might as well get up and give the intruder a good cursing. After all, it couldn't be anyone important; the location of this particular bolthole, a narrow three-storey place in a rather dingy area of London no-one with any sense would ever expect to find him, was known only to a few very specific people.

All but one of those people only knew about it because they were omnipotent.

He pulled a shirt over his head as he swept along the passages, leaving the laces flopping freely, and threw open the door.

Aziraphale stood in the street, an enormous covered basket under each arm.

Crowley paused, then quickly beckoned the angel inside. Aziraphale knew where most of Crowley's hideaways were in case of emergency, but he'd never come to this one before, so there must be a pretty damn good reason.

Aziraphale seemed not to notice Crowley's crossed arms and tapping foot as he cheerfully set down his baskets, took off his hat, and hung up his cloak.

'What's happened?' Crowley finally asked impatiently.

'Nothing much,' Aziraphale replied unconcernedly. 'It's the high season for books, what with the weather keeping people indoors and the holidays coming up, but my shop's kept very quiet. And you?'

Crowley frowned. 'Then why are you here?'

'Oh!' Aziraphale spun daintily around on his toes and bent to pick up the baskets. He deposited them in Crowley's arms. 'These are for you.'

'What are they?'

'Well, not for you, as such,' Aziraphale continued. 'But come to stay with you. I knew you wouldn't mind, and they did so need a home, poor things.'

Glaring suspiciously at the angel, Crowley carefully pulled up one corner the woven lid on one of the baskets.

Several pairs of bright green and yellow eyes gleamed out of the darkness.

Crowley slammed the lid shut. 'What are they?'

'They're cats!' Aziraphale beamed. 'There's another rise in witch hunt furore building up, and black cats are getting caught up in it. I've been scooping them up as I find them, poor dears, but I really can't keep more than a couple of the better-behaved ones in the shop. Most of them like do dreadful things to the books.'

'So you thought you'd bring them to me,' Crowley sneered.

'Well, yes,' Aziraphale said. 'You've got the space, haven't you? Just remember, dear, cats need love and attention, you mustn't treat them like your plants. Must be going!'

'Aziraphale!'

The angel just patted his hat onto his head, swung his cloak around his shoulders, and left.

Crowley grimaced and knelt down and opened the baskets. He might as well see what Aziraphale had tried to saddle him with before he threw the mangy things back out into the street where they belonged. Thirteen animals hopped out- tiny kittens to sleek, fat housecats to rangy toms, all inky black from nose to tail. The two most elderly cats, both with sliver hairs peppering their hides, immediately wandered off towards the fire crackling invitingly in the next room. The toms gave him wary looks and skittered away around corners and under cabinets, but Crowley knew they'd slink out soon enough; cats were always attracted to demons. The housecats rubbed against his legs before wandering off to inspect the place or sitting down to wash themselves, and the kittens bounced and tumbled over each other like spastic, untrained acrobats.

Crowley picked one up and held it up to eye level. The scraggly little thing was scrawny and bony, no hint of the fat belly Crowley was pretty sure kittens should have. Its tiny tail stuck straight out and its fur was more like sparse fuzz. It squeaked at him and yawned widely, showing off a bright pink tongue and sharp, tiny teeth.

Crowley sighed. 'Might as well have all the trappings,' he grumbled. 'Come on. You can be Ragweed. You three are Chill, Damp, and Mouldy. There should be some milk and cheese in the kitchen.'