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Theatrical Sins: A Play in Three Acts

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Act One: London, 1609

"It's a vice," Crowley told Aziraphale, with some amount of satisfaction, when they left the theatre that day. "You saw the crowd. Vulgar and sinful, the lot of them." He inspected his nails with exaggerated care. There was dirt under them. That was the style, these days, if you didn't want to be noticed.

"Come now, dear boy," said the angel, whose nails were entirely clean, quite perfect on his slightly pudgy hands. He was wearing a ruff. Crowley had told him more than once that he looked quite the fool in that ruff and his nicely embroidered, cream-coloured clothing. Crowley was far better dressed for the filth of the London streets, in his rough, dyed-red cloth -- he could still look expensive -- and worn leather jacket. And the earring, of course, a little gold bobble. He could tell it annoyed Aziraphale greatly, and he'd gotten a lot of admiring looks for it from other quarters.

"No, don't bother to deny it," Crowley said comfortably, stepping nimbly from cobblestone to cobblestone. "The theatre is a terrible vice. None of the clergy seem very much in favour of it."

"None of the clergy these days seem very much in favour of anything," Aziraphale retorted, looking rather put out. "Really, Crowley, if you hadn't tempted Henry to discard his poor wife in favour of that unfortunate Anne --"

"Done and done," Crowley said brusquely. Henry had actually been quite alarming, as humans went. He'd only needed the one sinful nudge, and the man had gone through six bloody wives. At least Crowley had gotten a commendation for creating factions in the Church, but this was small consolation, really.

"They're very confused," Aziraphale asserted, sidestepping the contents of a chamber-pot that splashed down on the street near him. "They can't properly appreciate theatre if they're too busy figuring out whether they're Protestant or Catholic or whatever other newfangled thing it is these days."

"That's entirely beside the point," said Crowley, and followed Aziraphale into the pub. At least the angel had some taste, even if neither of them were about to admit it. "And the point is," he added, as Aziraphale ordered their drinks, "the point is, er… you didn't order ale, did you? I think Italy has so refined my taste buds that England seems to be a culinary monstrosity. You didn't do that, did you?"

"I would think that is rather beside the point," the angel replied in a rather offended tone. "Though if you must know, I had absolutely nothing to do with any English food. None whatsoever."

"You protest too much, methinks," Crowley smirked. His drink was quite surprised to discover that it happened to be some rather fine Italian wine.

Aziraphale sipped his own drink with far more daintiness then was quite correct, considering that it was a clunky pewter mug he was sipping from. "I think it was a very good play," he said, after a moment's reflection. "It was a wonderful illustration of human contradiction."

"It was a bunch of silly men being witty at each other while the audience shouted rude remarks," Crowley corrected him, snickering. "Anyway, if Will's such a genius, you'd think perhaps he would've figured out by now that having a bunch of boys prancing around in dresses is just silly."

"Well, we can't very well have girls on stage," said Aziraphale, looking affronted.

"Please don't say something about theatre ruining their delicate sensibilities," said Crowley, and glared at his mug, which was even more surprised to discover that it was full to the brim. "I think you're confused," he added, waving the mug at Aziraphale and sloshing a bit of wine onto the counter. It turned back into ale before it hit the wood. "I think you should decide whether or not you're going to say theatre's a good thing."

"In moderate amounts," said Aziraphale with studied patience. "It makes the people happy, and that's hardly a sin."

"You're not arguing for your own side anymore," Crowley said in satisfaction. His mug refilled itself a third time. Things were beginning to get comfortably hazy. He grinned at Aziraphale. The angel was really very nice, if also remarkably silly about most things. "I think you just like Will."

"He is quite the poet," Aziraphale acknowledged. "Have you seen any of his sonnets, Crowley? Quite marvelous."

"Tripe, mush, and a dead giveaway about that kid who played Puck a while back," Crowley said smugly, propping his boots on the counter.

"What are you talking about?"

"I don't know, I can't quote the damn things. You know, all those sonnets he addresses to the lovely boy."

"That would be himself," the angel said stiffly. "Himself as a boy."

Crowley laughed. "Narcissism or sodomy. Take your pick, angel." He leaned forward. "If you want to know a secret, sodomy's more fun."

"Really, Crowley," Aziraphale sniffed. "What are you trying to do, put me off theatre for eternity?"

"Nah, go to as many shows as you'd like," Crowley said comfortably, and stood, only a little unsteadily, dropping a few coins on the counter. "'M paying for this, but you're treating me to the theatre, next time we go."


Act Two: London, 1895

"What did you do?" Crowley asked in horror, the first time he saw Aziraphale after sleeping away most of the nineteenth century.

"Isn't it lovely?" Aziraphale beamed. He was wearing an utterly ridiculous waistcoat, and a cravat, and a bowler hat, for Go -- for Sa -- for someone's sake. Bowlers would never, ever be stylish.

"It isn't lovely!" Crowley stormed. "Everyone's writing poetry and nancing about in high society! That's my job!"

Of course, it did mean that the angel had, in essence, done Crowley's work for him, and aside from the appalling dress sense much of London's upper class was currently sporting, it was quite fun to simply reap the benefits of Victorian society. Crowley even consented to visit Aziraphale's bookshop, and spent hours snickering over the current literature. Penny dreadfuls, he decided, were especially inspired, but the stories of the brave British soldier with his comrades in India was almost as good.

"These people," Crowley announced one evening, as he and Aziraphale strolled towards the playhouse, "are incredibly repressed. It's delightful."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," said Aziraphale with dignity, but he didn't seem particularly put out; Crowley had consented to wear a dove-grey top hat and white evening gloves, and Aziraphale seemed to think this was triumph enough for the time being.

The play itself was quite good, too.

"Wilde, is it?" Crowley said afterwards, sitting in the cozy back room of Aziraphale's bookshop and looking over the playbill. "It seems at least someone still has some sense of humour in this place."

"Oh, Oscar?" Aziraphale said, smiling at Crowley over the bottle of champagne. "Yes, he's quite the delightful fellow. So devoted to his writing, and such good friends with dear Bosie."

"Who?" Crowley asked carelessly, most of his attention already taken up between amusement that Aziraphale was associating once more with playwrights and delight that the champagne tasted very good.

"Lord Alfred Douglas," Aziraphale replied, unfolding the evening newspaper and giving it a cursory inspection. "He bought Dorian Grey from my bookshop a couple of years ago, and thought it was quite the remarkable book, and, well, I knew Oscar, so I thought it would be a wonderful deed, really, to introduce them, and they're quite inseparable now."

"Bosie," Crowley repeated, snickering. "Right, well, good job, Aziraphale."

When they heard, a few months later, about all the trouble Aziraphale's dear Oscar had gotten into with his inseparable friend, the angel was quite miserable.

"It's not your fault," Crowley told him, in an awkward attempt at comfort. "You were only doing a good deed, right?"

"I'm not blaming myself for that," Aziraphale said, slumped out over the table and staring unhappily into the distance. "I mean, yes, it was rather silly of Oscar to do that when he had Constance and the poor children to think of…"

"Last I heard, they'd run off to Switzerland," Crowley said dryly.

"Oh, let me finish, Crowley," Aziraphale snapped.

Crowley blinked. "Ah. Sure. Go ahead."

Aziraphale cleared his throat, his face settling into something very odd, halfway between distress and embarrassment. "I can't blame you for it," he said, looking at Crowley. "You've been asleep. I believe you. This century would have had a lot more turmoil otherwise. So it must be my fault."

"What are you on about?" Crowley said, mystified.

"These sodomy laws," Aziraphale said miserably. "It can't be right, can it, Crowley?"

"Oh, I don't know," said Crowley, standing. "I think you've gotten too much like these people, angel. I liked the people in Sodom and Gomorrah, right, but no, let's rain down fire and brimstone, shall we? You don't see it's wrong until it's personal."

He happened to run into Aziraphale on the opening night of Peter Pan a few years later, and Aziraphale had been so delighted with the show that Crowley consented to speak with him again, but he didn't stop being disgusted with Aziraphale until sometime in the 1920s.


Act Three: London, 1954

"I'm not sure I can forgive you for this," Aziraphale said.

"It is ingenious, isn't it," Crowley replied, giving Aziraphale a sharp grin. "Everyone who doesn't have one will want one."

"Oh yes, I'm sure." Aziraphale gave Crowley a disappointed look. "I don't care about your television, Crowley. I just thought… no one will ever have to go farther than their own living room to see a show. I don't think that's quite right."

"It's not supposed to be," Crowley pointed out, and stabbed at his salad with a fork that was rather more vindictive than it needed to be. It was lucky that Aziraphale had consented to the Ritz, instead of one of those insidious little diners that seemed to be turning up everywhere. No sense of style at all. "Anyway, what does that have to do with anything?"

"Well," Aziraphale confessed, "I rather like going to the theatre."

"Movie theatres," Crowley said promptly.

"It isn't quite the same thing." Aziraphale prodded his dessert halfheartedly. "The actors have no concept of audience interaction. There's no reception afterwards. It's a -- a parody of theatre, Crowley."

"I wasn't quite expecting it to take off like it did," Crowley confessed, which was as close to an apology as he was going to get. Anyway, Aziraphale could have figured that out for himself; Crowley had avoided Hollywood ever since the '30s.

"Yes, well." Aziraphale still looked remarkably downcast.

"Tell you what," said Crowley, struck by sudden inspiration. This probably wasn't a very smart idea, but Aziraphale looking so upset did annoyingly funny things to his insides, and anyway the angel did have a point. "I'll take you to a movie, okay? And then we'll see if you still think it's not worth anything."

"All right," Aziraphale agreed, though he looked rather taken aback.

So Crowley looked into things, and the following weekend, he brought his wonderful black Bentley to a screeching halt in front of Aziraphale's bookshop. It was with some satisfaction that he noted the angel's darting horrified look; his car always wrought the desired effect -- abject terror -- upon Aziraphale.

"Are you sure about this?" Aziraphale asked hesitantly, climbing into the passenger seat.

"Of course," Crowley said, giving the angel a sharp smile. Aziraphale was wearing tartan trousers. Crowley floored it, and felt slightly less offended by Aziraphale's choice of dress when he heard the angel whimper in terror.

"We're going to a drive-in theatre," Crowley said, by way of explanation, executing a two-wheel turn around a curve. "Seeing something about windows. By this fellow called Hitchcock."

"How lovely," Aziraphale said dubiously.

Crowley brought the Bentley to a halt, and grabbed the tweed sleeve of the angel's jacket as he started to climb out. "No, wait. We stay in here."

"In the car?" Aziraphale said, sounding as though all his sensibilities had been offended.

"In the car," Crowley repeated, and settled back in his seat.

The film was actually decent, but Aziraphale didn't seem to notice this. About forty minutes in, he tapped Crowley on the shoulder. "Er. Crowley," he whispered.

"What?" Crowley asked, not bothering to talk softly, eyes still on the screen.

"Those two young people. Just over there. What on earth are they doing?"

Crowley glanced where Aziraphale was pointing. "Oh," he said nonchalantly. "Kissing."

"Yes, I can see that," Aziraphale snapped quietly. "Why?"

"Hormones?" Crowley suggested.

"In the middle of a performance?" Aziraphale said, sounding outraged.

"The actors don't mind," Crowley said comfortably. "And anyway, you're not paying any more attention to the film than they are." He turned away from the screen to look at Aziraphale. The angel looked affronted, quite ridiculous in his tweed jacket and tartan trousers, the light from the flickering movie screen turning his hair pale silver. Crowley took a deep, unnecessary breath, and added, "That's what's worth going to the theatre for, these days."

"But…" Aziraphale said, suddenly puzzled.

"Here," said Crowley, and gave Aziraphale another sharp grin to show that this didn't make him nervous in the slightest, "let me show you."

Aziraphale still looked very surprised, but any indignation at this brand of theatre seemed to vanish with only a small bit of convincing. Crowley never did find out what happened at the end of the film, which really had been a rather good one during its first forty minutes.

He felt obligated, afterwards, to point out that theatre was still a terrible vice, but Aziraphale didn't protest this, or even really seem to care.