AN: The last scene is an homage to one of my favourite movies.
Be-Bop: Two Decades in Five Performances
Aziraphale was furious.
Crowley wouldn't budge. "Your people had it for a long time, you know. And you drove a hard bargain."
"But look at it! Look!"
"I have. It's jobs, you know. Progress. Out of the post-war slump and all that."
"Progress," Aziraphale spit out the word as if it tasted awful. Actually, it did. "Where have I heard that before?"
"Well of course White was here," Crowley smirked. "You don't think I did this all by myself, did you? He was very grateful, I must say,"
Aziraphale seethed even harder.
"You look like you're going to rupture something," said Crowley, as a dreary little pub loomed up out of the smog. "Let's have a drink and maybe that'll loosen you up. Then you can give me the caning I deserve."
There wasn't much less smoke inside than outside, and the interior of the room seemed to have a century of grime on its walls although the building was rather new. But there were pints, and for all the disgruntled looks of the patrons, there was a certain comfort about it. With his shaggy hair and corduroy jacket, Crowley looked all right with the crowd. Aziraphale looked like someone's visiting confirmed-bachelor uncle.
It might've got ugly eventually if they'd been the only thing for the regulars to look at, but to Aziraphale's dismay, a band was setting up in a corner. Still, the angel watched them, mildly interested.
"See that," he said accusingly to Crowley. "The guitar player's missing fingertips. Your bloody factories, I bet. That's cruel."
"Ah, but he's persevering. Overcoming adversity and all that. You should like that," the demon sighed. "See, now that's the one I expect great things from-" he nodded at the chubby-cheeked, lost-looking young man standing beside the tall dark guitarist.
He didn't look that special to Aziraphale, but he did look frightened, and that was enough to evoke some obligatory warm angel sentiment.
The sentiment lasted until the band started playing. There were only four of them but the violently loud noise they made was like gastric disturbances in a volcano, low and rumbling and twisting and mean. Aziraphale held his ears in severe pain until he remembered he didn't really have to let his eardrums explode if he didn't really want to. Crowley was flinching too, but laughing, and they both could swear they felt their chairs pushed backward slowly by the force of the sound. Aziraphale's pint glass started to vibrate itself right off the table until Crowley reversed its path just in time.
The frightened-looking young man was now transformed into frightening as his maniacal, true-believing voice shrieked through the dense din. Wild-eyed, he thrashed his head most alarmingly to his bandmates' racket.
Some people say my love cannot be true
Please believe me, my love, and I'll show you
I will give you the things you thought unreal
The sun, the moon, the stars all bear my seal…
"I am going to discorporate you painfully," Aziraphale mouthed across the table at Crowley, who shrugged.
"I didn't plan this. Ah well," Crowley took another deep drink. "So if this is the new fashion, they better get ready for a lot of amateur invokings downstairs." He rolled his eyes. "Can't wait for the answer from your side's fanclub."
Now I have you with me under my power
My love grows stronger now with every hour
"It's just so loud," the angel moaned. "How can people think this is pleasurable in any way?"
Look into my eyes, you'll see who I am
My name is Lucifer, please take my hand
Aziraphale just blinked at Crowley in horror. The demon was almost under the table with laughter. "They're fucking…brilliant…in their awful way."
Aziraphale stood up straight and stormed out.
Crowley, abashedly, scampered after him.
"GOOD NIGHT, GOD BLESS YOU ALL," screamed the strange young man, as if he were addressing not a pub crowd of 40 but a stadium of thousands. Soon enough, he would be.
The angel wondered why he'd taken on such projects at all…but the girl had such potential if she'd just stay away from the pills, and worse still, the man who dealt them. The current fashions in hedonism seemed to be getting more and more worrying, and sooner or later, he was just going to have to break down, venture out of the shop, and see what new candy-coated sin the Opposition was up to with own eyes. Lord knows most of what Crowley had tried to explain to him made no sense.
So apparently nice young people did go to clubs of this description nowadays, and found them quite the bee's knees. No tables, no service, no amenities…just pulsing coloured lights that did nothing to illuminate, sticky floors, the smell of sweat and various smokes…and each other.
Aziraphale had never been any kind of expert on this gender business, and he felt utterly lost now: they were all lean and slinky and artfully ragged, the boys looked like girls and the girls looked like boys and they all looked like refugees who'd lost everything in the terrible glitter monsoon. They were showing body parts he hadn't seen in quite a while, and everything was painted and decorated, and they slithered all over each other like a pit of…
"I thought this place had a dress code," said a smirking voice beside him. "Really, couldn't you at least have put on a spot of lipstick?"
"And this benefits your people how, exactly?" Aziraphale hissed.
"Oh, I don't think it does," said Crowley, whose yellow eyes burned out of smeary rings of eyeshadow and whose long hair had streaks of red and gold. There was glitter running down his chest under his sparkly vest. Aziraphale finally figured out the reason Crowley seemed so much taller suddenly. The heels of his boots were really bloody high. Aziraphale had never felt quite so naked in tweed. "It's just pretty to look at."
Fortunately, music started, and Aziraphale didn't have to come up with something smart to say. The crowd seethed in a kaleidoscope of stray rainbow emissions, flirting and arse-shaking and smearing their makeup all over each other, bits of fur and feathers and lace flying everywhere.
The young man singing was uncommonly beautiful. He looked like some Greek god's boy-lover in a painting from another age—a particular age Aziraphale remembered fondly in fact, all the poetry and politeness and talk of fairies in the garden. Oh yes, and Wilde. And the gavotte. He smiled almost wistfully as he watched Crowley pitch himself into the crowd and move with them—lithely, certainly, if not quite on-beat.
Well, you're dirty and sweet, clad in black, don't look back and I love you,
You're dirty and sweet oh yeah…
Aziraphale hadn't known hips could move like that. Well, probably only Crowley's could. And probably no one's ever should. It was rather ridiculous, but the demon's eyes were sparkling in a way he didn't think was just the makeup.
Well you're built like a car, you got a hubcap diamond star halo
You're built like a car, oh yeah
You're an untamed youth, that's the truth, with your cloak full of eagles…
Crowley was shouting something at Aziraphale that he couldn't possibly make out, but the gesture—holding out a tempting hand—was unmistakable.
Aziraphale shook his head firmly. Dance he might, in theory, but not to this.
Crowley pouted for a moment, frozen in time.
You dance when you walk, so let's dance, take a chance, understand me…
Then Crowley turned the bulk of his attention towards the otherworldly vision onstage with a rueful little shrug.
Aziraphale couldn't have explained why he felt sad as he walked home, but he did. He never knew that Crowley had left just about half an hour after he did, feeling inexplicably like a fool.
"Are you feeling a bit of déjà vu right now, dear?" Aziraphale looked a little misty.
"I think that's the idea," Crowley sighed. "I feel manipulated."
"That's what government pageantry is, isn't it?"
"I know. We invented it. Doesn't mean I like it used on me. So I should just lie back and think of England, then?"
Aziraphale stared at him and shook his head as they watched the boats on the Thames.
It was all grotesquely stately as a Jubilee was supposed to be, until the slight nautical disturbance; Crowley's eyes brightened briefly as an awful noise started to pour from a boat that looked just a little bit…out of step.
Aziraphale had never seen so many hair colours in one place.
Crowley burst out laughing at the grinding sound.
"What are they doing?" Aziraphale asked. "It sounds like their boat's falling apart."
"That's music, that is," Crowley smirked.
God save the queen!
She ain't no human being!
"There's something wrong with that lad," Aziraphale judged. "He's clearly…rather ill."
Crowley just cackled. "His problem is genius."
When there's no future how can there be a sin
We're just the flowers in the dustbin
We're the poison in your human machine
We're the future – your future!
"How can you say that? They can't even play! Not that I'm any kind of expert on this modern…thing, but…"
Crowley sighed. "Did you listen to a word I was telling you about the innovations they're talking about downstairs? Nuclear anxieties? Fun with global economies? I mean, the people are always way ahead of those wankers, but it's not like it hasn't been noticed. That battleaxe Thatcher? She's sure not done."
"I wasn't born yesterday, you know," Aziraphale snarled, eyes cold. "I know what's coming as well as you do. But the important thing is to rise above, not…"
Nooo future! No future! No future for you!
Ah, the police were breaking it up already. That was part of the performance too.
Crowley smiled with relief. "At least my déjà vu's gone. Liz One would've liked that."
Crowley was sulking. Well, honestly, the sulk was not terribly sincere. It was a beautiful day, and the field was full of good-looking young people wearing very little clothing who were sooner or later going to be doing scandalous things with each other without being properly introduced.
He should have been utterly in his element, but he couldn't be, because Aziraphale was. That meant he had to work at the performance, and that made him a little bit grumpy for real.
"Lovely place, isn't it?" Aziraphale said vaguely, eyes drifting over the half-naked hippies and New Age Travellers and assorted people in horrible approximations of medieval gear and surnburnt drunks and overpierced punks and underaged groupies with a revolting benevolence.
"You can't imagine the rubbish they leave behind," Crowley said weakly.
"It gets recycled," Aziraphale smiled. "They donate to nuclear disarmament, you know."
"Doesn't the commercialism of a holy site upset you just a little? I think I'm going to be ill from the smell of the candle shops alone."
"A little, but the tradeoff in real awakenings is worth it, don't you think?"
"Well, of course I don't think so!" Crowley said peevishly. "Wouldn't you rather be here with someone you had…more in common with?"
"Don't be silly. Who would that be?"
"What about that friend of yours from Soho? That vegetarian freak?"
Aziraphale's smile was so innocent Crowley wanted to slap him. "Oh, he's here. He's playing tonight, in fact."
Just about then, in fact.
Yes, there he was onstage, far down the end of the field. The band struck up a rolling drone, a gentle pulsation, a building sculpture of longing in note form. Girls all around them in diaphanous dresses started to flail in a vaguely rhythmic manner, incense sticks in their hands and glowing plastic bands around their heads.
I am the Son
And the heir
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
Crowley rolled his eyes—the singer with his vertical hair was fey to the point of evaporation, and the music sounded just like what it was: young people's idea of what the last century felt like on a good day.
But Aziraphale liked it. He would. He even seemed to be slightly…could it be…swaying?
Crowley thought this was too good to interrupt, and he worked to muster every bit of serpentine subtlety he'd ever had—and because he was, in fact, stoned, he overshot the mark by a lot.
You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does
For all the demon was nearly bent in half with nausea at the singer's emotive declarations, to his credit he stood firm, finding the beat where it lived. There was some business about going to clubs trying to find someone and then going home and crying and wanting to die, and it was all so terribly limp-wristed and wan and aching and self-pitying and still real it was vertiginous, and Crowley wondered what could happen if he upset the apple cart a little bit. So he leaned in to the angel who was looking in a rather wrist-to-forehead sad-eyed way himself, and took his hand.
"Like this, it's not that hard," Crowley muttered, and they slightly, sort of, in a manner of speaking, danced. Aziraphale was encouraged by those around them who'd learned all their dancing at hippie festivals.
When you say it's gonna happen now
Well, when exactly do you mean?
See I've already waited too long, and all my hope is gone.
In truth, Aziraphale was a much better dancer than he thought he was, and Crowley was a much worse dancer than he thought he was, and so it almost balanced out considering they were not doing anything the least bit advanced.
Anything to distract the angel's attention from that whiny fop up there.
But when he realised Aziraphale was actually singing along, that was entirely too much.
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everyone else does…
Crowley thought about rudely reminding him that no, he wasn't, and no, he didn't (presumably he was, after all, the Presence and all that), but actually, the dancing was all right.
Crowley wasn't sure what the angel had in mind, being here—it wasn't as if Berlin didn't need angels, but Aziraphale looked out of his element. Even more than usual.
For that matter, Crowley wasn't sure why he'd tagged along as Aziraphale wandered the streets disconsolately, looking for something or someone, perhaps, and whatever it was, not finding it.
They tried both sides; crossing over wasn't such a big deal if flying was an option and being seen wasn't necessary.
The East gave Crowley the shivers—Aziraphale looked less out-of-date here, for that part of the city was a time capsule. Black soot stains and bulletholes still riddled facades everywhere, and the slathering-over of Communist veneering looked like a weak attempt to keep down the restless other centuries seething beneath, not yet convinced this was the 20th after all.
Berlin was a city that dreamed, and it didn't really want to wake up.
Over on the West side, the dreams were brighter, louder, moving, hungry. The century they reached for was the 21st, bright as a Fata Morgana on the horizon and just about as hard to reach, for there were also ghosts here, still trying to keep them in the dark 20th.
Finally Crowley had just about had enough and pulled Aziraphale into a crumbling old movie palace, the kind of place the angel would have loved fifty years ago and still might as long as it served drinks. Which it most certainly did. There were young people of indiscriminate gender dancing in indiscriminate ways, but Aziraphale ought to be used to that by now. The ridiculously loud music, well, that he might never.
As they sat at a little table sipping vigorously and staring at each other blankly, Crowley resolved to get to the bottom of something other than just his glass. He tuned his voice to cut through the angular, ripping din of jagged guitars and voiced his suspicion as to what this was really all about.
"So…" Crowley asked. "What actually happened? Damiel…did he Fall?"
Aziraphale looked at him in surprise. "How did you…? Never mind. No, not Falling exactly…he just…chose differently."
"What? There's a third option?"
"Apparently so. There was this mortal woman, see, so now he's…" Aziraphale spread his hands helplessly. He didn't fully understand it either.
The guitarist onstage—a tall, scrawny man in leather trousers with eyes almost as reptilian as Crowley's--let loose a volley of a searing, electric crackling noise, and Aziraphale flinched.
"He's…human, you say?" Crowley exclaimed, eyes wide. "I didn't know that was possible!"
"I didn't either. For love, he said. Who would ever have thought…?"
"I wouldn't have thought, but…"
To their immense relief, the band started playing a gentler song with a lot of piano. The ratty-looking, black-haired singer in stark black and white turned out to have quite a pleasant baritone when he wasn't shrieking and cursing.
Best to change the subject, in a manner of speaking.
"This city's quite a…" Aziraphale ventured.
"It certainly is," Crowley shuddered.
We can talk about it all night long
We define our moral ground
"It can't go on forever like this," Aziraphale said. "That Wall can't last. It has to come down someday. It has to."
But when I crawl into your arms
Everything, it comes tumbling down
"They all do, in the end," Crowley said, looking at his counterpart intently in the red nightclub light as the sad puzzlement in his eyes subtly changed to a type of resolve he'd never seen there before.
Come sail your ships around me, and burn your bridges down
We make a little history, baby, every time you come around.
Songs and Bands. Most people will know at least one or two of these. I think everyone should know them all.
"N.I.B.," Black Sabbath
Guitarist Tony Iommi really did lose the tips of two fingers in a factory accident, on his fretting hand no less, and kept playing anyway.
"Bang a Gong (Get It On)" T. Rex
Singer Marc Bolan, like too many extremely beautiful rock'n'roll men, died young – in a car crash in 1977. One might almost think there was a conspiracy.
"God Save the Queen," The Sex Pistols
I don't need to say anything more about this, do I?
"How Soon is Now?" The Smiths
Yes, they did play Glastonbury in '84.
"The Ship Song," Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
The only non-English artists in the only non-English setting. Cave is Australian, guitarist Blixa Bargeld is German, and the whole band is in Wings of Desire which is why they're here. Not doing this song though. Pity.