“Crowley my dear, could you cover me this weekend?” Aziraphale prodded guiltily at his chocolate sundae. “I’m scheduled to inspire a change of heart from some loan sharks, destined for your lot, but I’ve been double booked for Easter.”
“What for?” Crowley lowered his glasses and pinned Aziraphale with an interrogating Look. “Going egg hunting?”
“Well, ah,” Aziraphale glanced upwards, then winced. “I was supposed to have gone to give some Divine Inspiration for a passion play, but the paperwork got held up like it always does during Lent, and I didn’t get the memo until just now. And it’s for the whole three days too,” he had a mouthful of half-melted ice cream and made a face.
“Ugh, bureaucracy,” Crowley waved a hand and unmelted the soupy sundae. “But — three whole days? Sounds very… devout.”
“Oh— thank you— yes, yes, very annoying, bureaucracy” Aziraphale said, half flustered and half cross. “But I don’t think it’s actually very devout. I’m supposed to make it less secular, whatever that means. It is a passion play, isn’t it?”
Crowley made a face of sympathetic puzzlement. “I’ll cover you on the loan sharks, but only if you take me to lunch when you’re back.”
“Oh thank you, Crowley,” Aziraphale said, perking up at last. “I appreciate it, truly.”
“Don’t mention it,” said Crowley, taking a big gulp of his wine. “No, really. Don’t mention it.”
Aziraphale was not a particular fan of passion plays. They weren’t meant to be comedic and pleasant in the first place, but it was quite difficult to immerse himself in the whole atmosphere when he had once stood in the shade of the cross during the original event. Crucifixion scenes always made him nauseous. Well, nevermind that — Himself was in a better place now, no doubt.
The London-Swansea line was convinced to set off at an odd hour, so that Aziraphale could arrive just before things were scheduled to start. As he got off the train in Port Talbot, he found himself pausing.
Aziraphale closed his eyes and spread his senses. The town was still sleeping, and everything was quiet, but the atmosphere was impossible to overlook. There was a slight hint of the usual miasma passion plays produced - a bit of religious enthusiasm, excitement for live entertainment, that sort of thing, but drowning all that out was a kind of intent love and dedication that he had not felt in some time. There was love in this place, and this place was loved.
“How interesting,” Aziraphale murmured.
Getting off a bus that had been persuaded to make a beeline from the train station to the beach, Aziraphale found himself regretting not wearing more sensible shoes. Or a scarf. The air was bitingly cold in the grey dawn light, and he squinted against the salty sea winds buffeting his face. There was a gathering of people, and a man was walking into the water.
It had already begun.
Aziraphale hadn’t expected Divine Inspiration would do much, this late in the process, and had mostly thought to miraculously cure a case of stage fright or prevent anyone from forgetting their lines or somesuch, just so the paperwork would line up. But it quickly became clear that this was not the kind of play where the people sitting behind him would tut in annoyance when Aziraphale shouted suggestions at Hamlet during his monologues. Perhaps the conventions of theatre had changed again. Maybe he ought to go see Hamlet some time, for old time’s sake.
There was quite a crowd gathered, and Aziraphale found himself cheerful as he craned his neck to watch the proceedings, almost squished by the thong of humanity.
The was so much going on. Singers and dancers, musicians and actors, children and the elderly. Performer and audience blurred into one, their myriad voices ringing out, saying, I am here, I am here, we are here. It went on for days, but never faltered and never stopped being entrancing. It was…nice, to be an observer to such swelling passion. It was nice to be amidst people who could affirm their belonging to their town so. Aziraphale did not have a home to love like that, but he could feel the love suffusing the whole town, and for a little while, he could pretend, and he could know just what it was like to belong somewhere so adamantly and so tenderly, not without question but knowing that there were answers, and that there were people who could tell you the answers, if you only asked and listened. A history, a continuity. Belonging. It was not something he needed, as a celestial being, but that just made it all the more touching.
On the last day, as Aziraphale followed along the great procession, nibbling on a sandwich, the Teacher seemed to look at Aziraphale for a moment.
Aziraphale froze. The intensity in the actor’s eyes felt like a great glowing beam of light bearing down on Aziraphale. The soft din of the crowd fell away, and he felt an irrational stirring of terror. The Real Life JC hadn’t even been able to pin Aziraphale with a glance like that. It was too fey, too piercing, too seeing. It was too evocative of being seen by Her. Aziraphale opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He wanted to laugh at the ridiculousness of his reaction. He wanted to cover his mouth. He wanted, inexplicably, to make his wings corporeal and fly away.
Then the world collapsed back into focus as the actor looked away to smile at some singing children, and the moment passed. For all that he wore a crown of thorns, the resemblance to Himself wasn’t physical. It was all in the patience. In this day and age, the willingness to listen was a lot more messianic than the ability to turn water into wine.
Aziraphale threw away the drink he had been nursing, and put his face into his hands. The woman next to Aziraphale suddenly began crying into the crook of her elbow, too busy holding up her camera to wipe her face.
The crowd roared and wailed and cheered as the play was completed. The triumph was palpable. Aziraphale let out the breath he had been holding and headed off to the train station without a backwards glance. He would remember it all, for as long as he continued to exist, past the end of the world, even, but he had no intention of lingering past his welcome. Their prayers were not to angel or god or sweet Jesus gone too soon, but to themselves, a love letter, a memory, a myth made in the telling. No angel was needed, no Divine Inspiration, no celestial meddling to give the story weight. It had very little to do with heaven, and nothing to do the agenda of Head Office.
Perhaps it had something to do with the ineffable plan, but who was Aziraphale to say?
“So? How was your trip to Wales? Inspired anyone interesting?” Crowley pushed a slice of cheesecake at Aziraphale.
“Oh, I had a delightful time.” Aziraphale smiled. “But I don’t think my presence was necessary at all. It was all very human, you know. Very lovely and very human. I really couldn’t bear to interlope.”