Um. Right.

This was written a couple of weeks ago, and formerly posted at LiveJournal. As a part of my project of refreshing and kicking new life into this account, I'm posting it here as well. I don't own the characters or the book they're taken from, but you knew that already. XP


They're strange, the things we give each other.

People talk about generosity as a virtue, but the question is if it really is. Most of the time, it's just people not being afraid of losing stuff, or having so much they don't have anything to lose. They're often poor in other ways which we cannot perceive.

Gifts are funny things.

We so seldom want to share. Most animals are possessive by nature, and to them it's a question of survival. We give each other presents for Christmas and birthdays, usually following a list the person receiving them have written. It's easy to follow instructions. Gifts like that lose their purpose and become a mere ritual, a tradition, something that's expected from us. For the money wasted on a gift without heart you could just as well buy something you want for yourself. (At least then you'd know it's appreciated.)

Gifts given with honest intentions are so very rare nowadays, in this society built on consumption. The act of giving has become an act of vanity.

People don't take enough care of what's given to them, these days.


The bare floor feels strangely cold underneath his feet. His hand is on the door handle, and there is a faint click as it unlocks itself at his touch. The door opens without a sound.

"I'd never have expected to see you here this early in the morning."

The fair-haired man in the doorway frowns slightly; like the statement comes as a surprise to him and he's not sure if it's a pleasant one. Aziraphale doesn't linger on it (he never does) and his voice is surprisingly soft when he replies. (It always is. Almost.)

"I'm sorry, did I wake you up?"

Apologies shouldn't be wasted when one doesn't mean them. Crowley smiles, and runs a hand through his black hair - contrary to the laws of physics, it seems to tidy up rather than becoming more of a mess, and the wrinkles on the suit he miracled on as he walked out of the bedroom disappear. Suddenly the cloth feels considerably less comfortable than before.

"I should've gotten up soon anyway."

A brief smile. Yellow eyes meet blue, and now the conversation starts.

"Right. Wouldn't want to waste a perfectly decent day in bed, now would we." He smiles in a brief flash of white. "The weather is quite lovely today."

Crowley was going to say something about weather and angels and dark, dusty bookshops, but decides to keep quiet. A brown paper bag in his opposite number's pudgy hands has caught his attention, and it looks awfully familiar.

He gets the feeling it has something to do with why Aziraphale has chosen to visit him a quarter to nine a Monday morning.

"Oh, this," he had noticed the stare, for sure: Crowley wasn't wearing his sunglasses. "Just a little something I thought might interest you."

Blue meets yellow. A flash of white again. The demon opened the door a little wider and soon Aziraphale had found his way into the immaculately clean kitchen without even bothering to take off hiscoat. It was apparently going to be a short visit, judging from that act of uncharacteristic rudeness. Crowley wasn't surprised.

They seldom visit each other's homes - or at least Crowley's home. (Current residence would perhaps be more accurate.) Not unless it was as a meeting place for the Arrangement. (Or involved a recent addition to the angel's liqueur cabinet.) Aziraphale looked out of place in the white, pristine apartment; the clothes in shades of brown and cream were tasteless but strangely domestic, and he did not look like a person the human Crowley pretended to be would associate with.

On the kitchen table that Crowley couldn't ever recall he'd actually used, the content of the paper bag was standing. He raised an eyebrow as he understood why the label on the bag had looked so familiar.

"It's a cactus."

"Oh, I do hope so dear, or the florist has made an awfully big mistake."

It was of average cactus-size, he assumed; green and spherical. The needles were quite long and in small bundles placed in rows, but with quite enough space between. The clay pot was a shade of brown matching Aziraphale's trousers.

"It's a South-American species," the angel continued. "And apparently a rather special one."

When Crowley doesn't interrupt him, he continues.

"I bought it just yesterday. To be honest I was going to get something for myself - The shop could need something a little more colourful and I thought at first I'd buy something that didn't require that much attention, but then the lad working there showed me this fellow, and well --"

He stops, like he's said too much. Not talked too much, but leaked too much information.

"I wanted to give it to you as soon as possible, and I had some business to attend to in this area..."

"It's a gift."

"... Yes. Yes it is."

The slightly curved corners of his mouth turns into a smile; if it's relief or if he thinks he accepts it, the demon doesn't know. The whole situation seems slightly surrealistic to Crowley: the only presents they've ever exchanged in the past were usually of the more liquid, bottled-up kind. A plant is a living thing, and he's surprised Aziraphale isn't worried about putting it in Crowley's hands. (He has, after all, never told himabout his botanic interest before.)

In a suspicious part of his mind, Crowley wonders if it's a mere act of generosity, or a question of trust. And then he wonders why he should care if that is his ulterior motive.

He grabs a clean cup that surely wasn't standing on the kitchen sink before, white as bone and soon filled with tea that Aziraphale happily consumes while telling him more about his botanical choice of gift. When he's about to leave half an hour later, the coat is mysteriously hanging on the clothes hook in the hall.

The morning sun turns to midday, and the cold light of morning becomes golden rays playing tag on the white walls. The plants on the windowsill turn their lustrous leaves towards the light (if not because they need it to survive, then because they were eerily aware of Crowley's serpentine eyes upon them) and Crowley smirks like the self-satisfied bastard he by all rights feels like.

He's never told Aziraphale about the... Existential conversations between him and the houseplants. Just as well, because the angel surely wouldn't entrust him with anything with more life in than a rock if he knew. It both amused him and, although he wouldn't admit it, puzzled him that Aziraphale had bought him a gift - a plant, on top of that.

He hadn't tried to explain it. No 'I thought you would like it' or 'It reminded me of you.' (And frankly, if Aziraphale had told him that a small, chubby cactus reminded him of Crowley said demon would've been deeply insulted.)

The demon frowned slightly, staring at the pathetic piece of botany on the kitchen table. A gift.

It seemed strange, but there was no need to deny that was what it was.


Echinopsis Oxygona. Original habitat: Southern Brazil, Uruguay and Northern Argentina. It was quite tolerant to cold, but liked sunshine and warmth best, of course. Crowley never let the plants make any demands that weren't necessary for their self-preservation: and as it turned it out, all they really needed to metaphorically glow with prosperity was sun, water and the weekly threats that Crowley happily provided them. But cactuses were originally desert-plants, and not even Crowley was totally unreasonable. Soon the cactus had its own pedestal in a sunny spot in the living room.

The pedestal (wooden, white, nothing fancy thankyou very much) he'd acquired simply because there wasn't enough room on the windowsill, and even though there was nothing stopping him from conspicuously 'taking care' of another plant, the pathetic bundle of needles would've looked quite out of place amongst its distant, more leafy cousins.

Crowley had given it a long welcome speech, of sorts. The first thing he'd made clear was that it should not feel flattered because of the special treatment, that it was not in any way better or more special than any of it's potted fellows, and it was treated differently because it was different and that was not something to be proud of. Lowering its self-confidence, Crowley figured, would make it more susceptible to future threats.

It remained silent in its pot on the pedestal. Admittedly it wasn't radiating fear like its relatives, but Crowley chose to interpret the silence as a sign of shame and submission.

But, in contrary to all the things he'd told it, he hadn't been telling the exact truth. There was something Aziraphale had told him about the Oxygona - The thing that had made it so special in the angel's eyes to begin with - and it intrigued Crowley.

Flowers, in general, bloom. This is a generally accepted fact, although it's not too common knowledge that cactuses bloom as well. A cactus' flowers are surprisingly colourful considering their pointy appearance, and actually smell quite nice.

The Echinopsis Oxygona's flower was, like many other cactuses', nocturnal. The flower was large, pale, and opened its petals in the evening and died the following morning. It was quite a rare thing, seeing it bloom: for some cactus species it could take years to come into flower for the first time.

In Crowley's eyes, the thing had just begged him to accept that challenge.

So there he stood, leaning forward towards the unwitting object of terror. He'd hoped to see the thing stir a little, but the cactus seemed totally unaffected by his ominous presence. He removed his glasses, narrowed his eyes and let his mouth curl into a leer of false hospitality.

"Hello, love," It was a voice soft and sweet as honey: succulent like a ripe fruit and if you listened long enough, it was quite possible your brain would feel the same. "Made yourself at home, have you? Feeling comfortable?"

It was a question of safety, and the unpleasant feeling of insecurity when someone took it away. Cruelty slipped into his voice like poisoned wine, still dark and rich but with danger stretched between his vocals.

"Because that can change, you know. If you don't show me some gratitude, some appreciation - Everyone has a rent to pay... And this is my room, my world that you inhabit. I can take away the sun, the water and humidity --"

He stopped. Something was wrong.

"I could make you burn. I could sssoak you in gasssoline, let you sssuck it all up and light the matcsssh..."

For a brief moment, Crowley wondered if Aziraphale indeed had given him a rock. A very cleverly disguised rock, because the cactus surely wasn't reacting. He cast a glance at the other plants; eavesdropping as one would expect, fear was being practically radiated through the air in small waves from the green leaves. But the plant in front of him stood immobile, silent and serene. There wasn't a thing hinting that it had even heard him.

Were cactuses deaf?

Trying not to look astonished, Crowley leaned forward again, licking lips that were no longer curled into a sadistic grin.

"I could pick you precsssious needlesss out, one at a time, ssslowly..."

Experimentally, he reached out a finger and poked the waxy botanical tissue. When nothing happened, he repeated the move, poking harder, like he was expecting it to move.

It didn't. Which wasn't that much of a surprise, really.


We are usually grateful when we receive gifts.

Some people are not. The act of giving is to them an unsettling thing: perhaps because they don't think they deserve it, or because they think they have to give something back. This usually only says something about their own personality: Why give to people that don't deserve it? Why give without getting something back? It's a little insulting to those who give without any ulterior motives.

It's easy to give away something you no longer need, or no longer like or have any use for. Clothes you no longer can wear, CDs you no longer listen to, books you've never read... It's also easy to give away something you received for free.

(A photo is an odd thing to give away. No matter how much you try, a photo is a memory and nobody will associate it with exactly the same things that you do.)

A gift - It might seem like a gift is something sacred. And to some people it might be. But in all honesty, it doesn't matter how big or small the gift, if given or received with pure intentions:

A gift is something you give someone else.


Days pass. They have a tendency to do that.

And seven days have passed, and two weeks, and Crowley is growing more and more frustrated over the recent addition to his collection of houseplants. One would think it's because it disobeys him, taunts him and ignores his threats: but it does none of these things.

It hasn't changed since the first day. Silently it stands on the pedestal, brooding and secretive. If it had lips it would've hummed quietly every time the sun fell upon it, and Crowley thinks it's a good thing he's placed it on a safe distance from its relatives.

(Who knows what it would tell them if they came close enough? Who knows how its quiet rebellion might encourage the other plants?) Just last week, two new empty pots stood conspicuously placed on the floor in his apartment.

This was ridiculous. The thing was making him nervous, not the other way around.

(Crowley really didn't have any experience in the more usual method of tending plants. That is, the one most commonly practiced amongst humans.)

The most effective solution would be throwing it away. He could fill the sink with water and leave it there until it rotted, he could take it out on the balcony and show it the glorious view of London during traffic congestion before dropping it. There were numerous ways of getting rid of the cactus he could think of, and he'd stated many of these ways to said cactus.

And yet every time he was about to make one of these visions come true, when he grabbed the clay pot to get rid of it once and for all, something stopped him.

That was what annoyed Crowley more than anything.


"It's been a couple of weeks now."


"I trust the... The present I gave you isn't proving difficult to take care of?"


"Oh, for goodness' sake Crowley, you can't be drunk already."

Amber eyes flicker behind dark lenses, and Crowley grins as he puts the glass of wine to his lips again.

"It's an embuggerance."

"Beg your pardon?"

"The cactus."

"Yes, I understood that. What I don't understand is how it could be of any trouble. A cactus doesn't really crave that much attention, after all."

The glass is cool and smooth between his lips, the wine fills his mouth with memories of centuries passed. Somewhere in between, there is the taste of grapes and alcohol. Aziraphale raises his glass too, and he drinks slowly, savouring the taste (he wonders if it burns the angel's throat as well) and looks at him with a slight frown.

The pale electric light from the lamps in the back of the bookshop seems to dance in his blond hair, hinting of gold. The angel's eyes are perfect blue - A clear Summer sky is hidden within them, and his lips are red from wine. Crowley finds himself staring.

"Look, do we have to talk about that blessed plant?"

It's odd and beautiful and ugly at the same time, the gold and blue and crimson.

"Why not?"

It just doesn't suit the rest of his appearance. It doesn't suit that chubby body, that soft face and clothes that went out of fashion decades ago. Crowley doesn't reply. Behind shaded glass, he stares into those mild, puzzled eyes.

Gold. Blue. Crimson. It's like he's expecting to see snow-white wings rise behind Aziraphale as well, struggling to take flight on their own.

He's definitely had too much to drink.

"I don't even understand why you gave it to me in the first place."

And he doesn't, does he? It still annoys him, the cactus, but not the act of... Giving. Crowley doesn't believe in charity: humans are selfish bastards and demons are selfish bastards and angels are selfish bastards that just lend a hand to people because it benefits them. In a way, that's even worse than being self-conscious of one's egoism.

Something moves behind those eyes. He purses his lips, lowers his eyebrows and his gaze flickers just barely.

"Fine. Crowley, if you didn't like it, all you had to do was say so weeks ago, and I would've taken considerably less offence than now."

Despite his words, there's not much anger in that sentence; he sounds more like he's failed something, an undercurrent of mild disappointment.

"That's not what I meant."

"Do tell me then, Crowley. What did you mean?"

He can feel the alcohol running in his blood, pulsating through his veins and heating up his mortal body. He can feel it just as well as he can feel Aziraphale's eyes staring into his behind the sunglasses.

Crowley leans back and finds himself looking away.

"I do like it."

A sigh. It's not his own. Aziraphale is still looking at him, lips still slightly pursed and eyebrows slightly furrowed, but he sighs and his expression softens. But then he leans forward and rubs his temples slowly.

"I'm glad," his eyes are closed and he looks strangely tired for someone who hasn't slept in six thousand years. "But it's getting late, don't you think?"

Crowley stands up. The bottle of wine is on the table, and just a little less than half of it is left. He stares at the red liquid in his glass and drains it, slowly. But the taste is gone, the memories left at the bottom of the glass.

"I'll call you."

He walks out of the dusty bookshop, out into the cool night air and the lights of Soho rush past as he drives home in the Bentley. He turns down the window and feels the cold wind ruffle his raven-black hair, rushing down his neck and back, biting and kissing - he's shivering, but stops as soon as he realizes there's no need to.

Crowley remains silent on his way back to his apartment. The bottle of wine is still there in the back of his mind, the oddly awkward conversation lingers in his head.

He'll call.


He's quite taken aback when he sees the bud.

At least that's what Crowley thinks it is. It's green, round and harsh; placed on the side of the spherical body of the plant, it looks more like a growth, a strange kind of parasite than what would be a fragrant flower.

It comes as a reward to Crowley, even though he couldn't tell why. The conversation with Aziraphale (no matter what the angel thought only barely bordering to drunk talk) two days earlier had made him uneasy, although not in a conscious kind of way. He didn't feel guilt; after all, Crowley had merely stated his opinion, however detached the meanings seemed when he put them into words. He did like it, those words were true, he'd found to his own surprise. No matter how much it frustrated him, a strange kind of interest and fascination grew as the frustration subsided with time.

Indeed, it was Aziraphale's own reaction that bothered him.

They'd given each other things before. Bottles of wine, mostly, but sometimes clothes and Crowley could even recall getting his hands on some old book or scripture for the angel once or twice the latest millennia.

But the again... That was different, wasn't it? The wine they always drank together, sooner or later, and the clothes and various smaller accessories were given in the past as a sign of support because they both needed them. The chances of getting robbed, slaughtered or bludgeoned in one's bed were abysmally small in the twentieth century, compared to earlier ones. (And in Aziraphale's case, Crowley suspected that his bibliophilic tendencies implied a need or addiction, though he couldn't quite tell what kind.) Besides, there was no question they owed each other afterwards.

This was a gift given without any demands. The reason why Aziraphale reacted like he did and why Crowley couldn't get rid of it was the same.

Somehow, this had taken his mind off of the cactus itself. He'd given up on trying to threaten it: instead he left it alone and went on to terrify the other plants on the windowsill, just so they wouldn't try to follow the cactus' initiative. Occasionally he would stop in front of it, muttering slightly just to let it know that he did not approve if its behaviour.

Sometimes he'd mutter about the angel, wondering what he'd really had in mind when he gave him such a nuisance.

It didn't bother him nearly as much as he pretended it did, though. Most of the time he didn't think about it at all, trying to get the days to pass, but it always remained in the back of his mind.

So he smirks, thinking the cactus finally came to its senses when he sees the bud on his way out one morning. (Mentally, subconsciously even, he kicks the small voice of protest in his head.)

And if cactuses could smile, this one would, humming quietly while doing so.


Give and receive. Claim and sacrifice. Offer and covet. Generosity, greed, charity and egoism.

Do we want to give a part of ourselves, or take a part of someone else?

Perhaps we just want to be a part of someone else's life.


Somewhere in London, a demon goes to bed a cloudless night.

And somewhere else in Soho, London, an angel is gazing at the stars through a small, dirty window, pouring himself a cup of tea.

Quiet thoughts drift through his mind: this is the time when you don't really notice them, your conscience dulled and a time of merely being. He allows his mind to drift during the night, because unlike his demonic counterpart he's not into the habit of sleeping, and to be honest the prospect of dreaming scares him.

One would think an angel would have a lot else to think about except his (at least formally) immortal enemy - but the truth is he spends enough time of the day not thinking about him.

The tea is still hot, and he burns his tongue as he takes a sip.

Besides, it's not like he's experienced much without his nemesis being involved; these six thousand years on earth, haven't they both spent most of it getting in each other's way, tempting and thwarting each other? The demon is always there, if only in the background. His thoughts leap from topic to topic, word to word and image to image - a strange kind of dance, and he doesn't try to arrange them and help them make sense either.

Remembering isn't hard for a celestial creature; it's stuffing thoughts and memories away without forgetting them that's troubled him in the past.

Now the angel's mind is filled with vivid colours: silk and woollen garments in all the colours of the rainbow and dozens more, with cities and landscapes and people from all over the world and from all times. He still thinks he can recall the fragrance of the flowers of Eden, as well as the taste of clear water and rich wine.

And through these millennia, centuries, decades: there is only one face that connects them all. The angel sighs, putting the cup with brown liquid to his lips, and the heat and mild bitterness still burns. He wonders why he cares, and changes his mind. He knows why he cares. Try not to care, seeing that face at least once every hundred years for the last thousand years - at least once every second week the latest century.

It's no wonder he cares about him, the real wonder is why Crowley cares about him.

"I do like it."

There is a faint smile over a line that could very well be a lie playing on Aziraphale's lips.

The tea is suddenly exactly the right temperature.


The cactus doesn't take a lot of Crowley's time.

He's got a job to do, after all, and he spends both days and nights how he sees it fit. When he comes home in the evening, sometimes in the morning, all he ever does is give it a quick thought, water and whisper to the other plants and go to bed or out again. It doesn't matter much anymore, it takes care of itself and all is well.

Still, it's the small things that make time worthwhile. A stroll in the park, a bottle of wine, a well-placed argument...

His gaze falls upon the phone each time he leaves the house.


You can lose something by giving it away, but also by receiving it.

Really; it's not as paradoxical as it sounds. People talk about what changes their lives; events in their life as well as things. How many don't claim to have read books or seen movies that have changed their whole look at life? To change things, time has to pass and you have to lose to gain. That is why it scares so many people: change is to walk out in pitch-black darkness, with a flashlight that may or may not have run out of batteries.

Change is taking a walk with an umbrella, not knowing if it will protect you from the rain or carry you away with the storm.

Change is losing your virginity and, perhaps, gain a new life.

You have to be brave to face changes.

Take chances.


When Crowley comes home late one night, Heaven awaits in his living room.

Only metaphorically, of course. His living room is still the same, and not nearly as monotone and boring as the Heaven he left eternities ago. No, the demon reckons, when humans talk about Heaven they imagine something like this.

The flower is big and beautiful, a pale rosy shade that's opened up to him, smiling and filling the whole apartment with its heavenly scent. He doesn't know how long it's been in full bloom, how long the blossom has stood naked and vulnerable; but he does know that in the morning, in the cold light drawing patterns on the wall and comforting the other plants, it will die. And he will leave it to rot until its scent has faded as well.

It's sadly brief, the life of this desert flower. Like every flower, it has a set lifetime: small and pathetic at first, soon in full vivid glory, and after that decay. A lot like the human lifespan when you think about it, a lot like the laws they write and empires they create. (Crowley almost has to laugh at himself: he was never much for poetry.)

He chooses to breath, inhale the sweet and rich scent every time, filling his lungs and mind and every part possible of his human body.

For a while, that's enough. (Isn't it always? There is no room for serenity in our lives, mortal or not...) For a while, he's content sitting there, stuck in a state between sleep and awareness. Then he sighs, and all the plants on the windowsill sigh as well, relaxing for just one night. Outside, the world hasn't changed at all.

Inside, Crowley reaches for the phone.

If necessary, he'll have him fly here over London this night, force him into the Bentley or drag him here by his feet all the way from Soho. He's surprised how much it suddenly means to him, and how all these weeks seems to have come down to only this.

Ring. Ring. In his mind, Crowley can see him, waking up from some reading-induced trance, stretch and walk over the rickety old floor to answer the ridiculously outdated telephone...

After all, he promised Aziraphale he would call.

And in Crowley's apartment, the cactus has stopped humming and burst out in song.


The question though, isn't really whether we deserve the gifts we are given or not, or if we're brave enough to accept them with open arms: curses and blessings will always fall upon you, no matter if you want to or not.

The question is if you're ready to give something back.



'Easter Lily' is the common name of the Echinopsis Oxygona. Thank you for reading, feedback is always welcome.