“I seem to have some new acquisitions,” Aziraphale commented as he sipped the tea Crowley had brought. Because Crowley had brought it, Aziraphale expected it to be excellent, so it was. It was the day after the angel had gone to Hell, the demon had gone to Heaven, and they had managed – at least temporarily – to flummox both sides. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, the other two sides, considering that he and Crowley were now their own side?
At any event, Aziraphale had found himself experiencing a mixture of relief and comfort when Crowley arrived at the bookshop the next morning bearing take-away tea and coffee. He might be feeling, Aziraphale admitted in the privacy of his own mind, just a bit clingy.
Crowley glanced at the row of red-bound books. “Yeah. Noticed those the morning after the Apoca-didn’t. Adam seems to have decided to abjure ‘this rough magic.’”
“Well, I’m pleased that he took the trouble to find them a good home rather than drowning them!” Aziraphale rejoined sharply.
“Angel, they’re books, not kittens.”
Aziraphale’s glare suggested that he didn’t think much of Crowley for implying that there was any bloody great difference. Crowley, no fool, attempted placation.
“It could have been worse. Will’s original idea was to have Prospero burn his book. I’m the one who pointed out that it made more sense to drown it, given that Prospero was on an island. Lots of water around.”
He snuck a sideways glance through his dark glasses. The glare had not abated. “Because it’s a magic book, y’know? I figured drowning was less final. Like there might be a charm on the book that kept it dry, and that would leave things open for Will to write a sequel…”
The glare had softened slightly.
“Or if Will didn’t write a sequel then maybe there’d be fanfic, because you know a lot of fans thought that ending was a cop-out, what with Prospero sailing off and leaving Ariel behind on the island with Caliban.”
“Will did have to get his play past the censors, my dear. Although I still wished they’d excised that line about the book.”
“Yeah, I noticed. You came to every performance that first season and every time you heard that line, you winced.”
“You were meant to be paying attention to your fellow actors, not to whether or not I was wincing,” Aziraphale chided.
Crowley shrugged. “I still wish I’d got the role I auditioned for.” He dropped into a sort of lurching crouch and declaimed in a growl:
“When thou camest first,
Thou strok’dst me, and mad’st much of me; wouldst give me
Water with berries in ‘t; and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night: and then I lov’d thee,
And shew’d thee all the qualities o’ the isle,
The fresh springs, brine pit, barren place, and fertile;”
Crowley paused the barest second and then ended in a screech, “Cursssed be I that did so!” He straightened up and resumed his usual manner. “But no, Will said he wanted ‘something earthier.’ I’m a snake, for crying out loud, how much earthier did he want? When I offered to demonstrate, he said no, he didn’t need to see my snake, he didn’t run that kind of audition and he was offering me Ariel, take it or leave it.”
“Probably just as well, dear. The appearance of a talking serpent on stage would have seen the theatre closed down and Will tried for witchcraft. And you were quite, ah, effective as Ariel. How did that go, ‘full furlong five…’”
“Fathom, angel, fathom. They’re on an island, not a horse.” Crowley eyed his angel speculatively and began to sing, his voice higher and sweeter than one might have expected:
“Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;”
As he spoke, he strolled towards Aziraphale with a light and sinuous step reminiscent of a cobra rising out of a basket.
“Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade;”
He was standing to Aziraphale’s right side now, except then somehow he was leaning over Aziraphale’s left shoulder, singing into Aziraphale’s left ear. His hips must have been somewhere in the middle but Aziraphale couldn’t tell where because for all that Crowley was essentially wrapped around him, they were not touching, not quite. Aziraphale felt his face heat as Crowley sang softly:
“But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange.”
And then he was gone, strolling away as he carolled:
“Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell: ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them, – ding-dong bell.”
He stopped some feet away, then said conversationally, “You must’ve liked the rest of the play well enough despite the book’s sad end. Y’know, coming to every performance like that.”
“You were on stage, all eyes on you. I thought you might have taken the role as an opportunity for temptation, so of course I had to be there to thwart you.”
Crowley shook his head. “Not my style, angel. I do my best work from behind the scenes. Sorry you wasted your time.”
“Oh, it wasn’t a complete waste of time. I did enjoy the play, at least most of it.” Then, with just the slightest smile, Aziraphale added, “As I said, you handled your role well.”
“I did, didn’t I?” Crowley preened.
“Yes, you were very convincing in Act III as a harpy.”
Crowley burst out laughing in a way he rarely did when he was sober – open and free. Aziraphale liked the sound of it. Perhaps now that they were done with their responsibilities to Heaven and Hell, there would be more opportunities for laughter?
“Well done, you, I walked right into that one!” Crowley seemed to consider a moment, then added confidingly, “I wasn’t quite honest with you about the temptation.”
“Dye me surprised,” replied Aziraphale drily.
“There was one person in the audience I was trying for…”
“Oh, dear, I never sensed anything at all!” Aziraphale fretted.
“Because it never came to anything. Total failure.”
“Now I really am surprised, my dear. You can be rather temp… competent at tempting.”
Crowley arched an eyebrow above his glasses. “Merely competent?”
“Stop fishing. You certainly made an impression on some members of the audience. You must have seen the fanfic…”
The other eyebrow arched.
“…not that I read any of it myself!” Aziraphale concluded, a bit too hastily.
“Fanfic,” Crowley replied in a silky tone, “Only reflects the opinions of those who write it – and those who bestow kudos. But maybe you’re right. Maybe I didn’t fail as completely as I thought. Well, places to be, people to wile. Sushi at eight? I can pick you up now that I’ve got the Bentley back.”
Without waiting for an answer, he sauntered out of the shop, singing as he went:
“Where the bee sucks, there suck I;
In the cowslip’s bell I lie:
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily:
Merrily, merrily shall I live now,
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.”
Aziraphale was left behind to wonder what possibilities for exploration the wake of the Apocalapse might offer. O brave new world, indeed.