‘If I tell you about Shakespeare, will you stop all this nonsense?’
Crowley stops dead, in mid-word, in mid-gesture, the folio held over his head like a football trophy. He turns, rotating carefully on one heel and moving nothing else, and looks at Aziraphale. ‘Tell me about him. Like -- like really tell me?’
‘Yes.’ Aziraphale leans forward and puts his teacup down on the table, then sits back and clasps his hands. ‘I’ll really tell you. But you have to give up all this -- this silliness.’ He waves a hand and somehow manages not only to encompass this particular merlot-filled rant about the relative idiocy of the lovers in Romeo and Juliet versus Twelfth Night, but every other rant Crowley has ever been on and the miscellaneous digs, jibes, jabs, sneers, put-downs, bad jokes, and puns he’s perpetrated at Shakespeare’s expense since approximately 1600.
Crowley shoves the folio back on the nearest shelf and narrows his eyes at Aziraphale. ‘You’ll tell me.’
Crowley sniffs and drops himself down in the armchair across from Aziraphale, drawing one long leg up to his chest and propping his chin on his knee. ‘Hmm. Dunno. That’s giving up a lot, angel. S’it a good story?’
‘You’ll love it.’
Crowley drums his fingers on his knee for a minute, then shrugs. ‘Well, I can always come up with something else. Go on, then.’ He gives a gracious wave of the hand. ‘Proceed.’
‘Oh, thank you so very much,’ Aziraphale says dryly. ‘D’you remember that pub -- well, more like a room with a lot of bottles in -- in the next street over from the Rose?’
Crowley groans, dropping his head back. ‘The one with the worst claret ever? The one where everything tasted faintly of dirty socks? Yes, yes, I do happen to remember a hangover that flatly refused to leave.’
‘Look -- just -- there.’
It's harder than you might think for a drunken angel and a drunken demon to balance an even more drunken human between them but it can be done with sufficient time.
‘Why ‘m I doin’ this ‘gain?’ Crowley mumbles, taking a firmer grip on Will’s wrist as they start to shuffle through the mud of the street.
‘For the future of literature,’ Aziraphale declares, sobering himself up just enough.
Crowley grunts. ‘Well, next time you find the future of literature--find one that can hold his liquor. This is the second time this week!’
‘You were the one encouraging him to drink! All those silly games.’ Aziraphale is perfectly well aware that Crowley had been encouraging Will to drink so the human would reach the point of no return sooner. Whether because Crowley found an inebriated Shakespeare amusing or because he hoped to whisk Aziraphale off somewhere else after Will passed out was an open question.
‘How far are we taking him, anyway?’ Crowley asks when they pause at a corner.
‘His room’s just in the next street,’ Aziraphale says, a little breathless, nodding down the direction.
‘Getting chummy, are we?’ Crowley says and resettles Will’s arm over his shoulders again. Will mumbles something and sways towards Aziraphale; before Aziraphale can do anything, there’s an unsubtle shifting of weight and Will sags back towards Crowley. ‘You don’t even know where my rooms are.’
‘You don’t have any,’ Aziraphale says. ‘-- Careful, there’s a loose stone --You never do.’
‘That’s not true! I had that lovely place in Antioch -- oh, and don’t forget the one in Eisleben!’
‘Sssssh, for heaven’s sake. Someone will hear you.’
‘Oh, as if anyone’s listening---!’ Crowley kicks open Will’s door and takes the human’s full weight from Aziraphale. ‘Here we go, future of literature…’ He dumps Will unceremoniously but not ungently on his bed as Aziraphale goes to poke up the fire and relight some of the candles stuck about the room.
Crowley straightens up and makes a show of cracking his back. ‘What now, then? I suppose you want to watch over your prodigy. Make sure he doesn’t do anything -- human to himself.’
‘What, more human than drinking himself unconscious?’ Aziraphale leans over to light a last candle on the table and stands back. The candlelight makes everything look a little warmer and softer than it really is. Will looks the picture of innocence, tumbled on his bed, one hand open above his head, the other curled by his chest, a faint flush on his cheeks. Were it not for the strong fumes of ale, it would be possible to believe him lost in a pleasantly pastoral dream.
And Crowley -- well, Aziraphale has long been aware that Crowley in any light looks more or less beautiful but the softness of the candle smoothes over his sharp edges, makes him look more like someone who might take Aziraphale’s hand, were he ever to be brave enough to put it out. In this light, his eyes look deep and golden and Aziraphale would like to catalog their changes--
Crowley clears his throat and Aziraphale blinks, abruptly aware that he’s been staring at Crowley across the table. ‘I’ll leave you to it, then.’
‘Yes. That night,’ Aziraphale says.
‘Well? What about it? So far you haven’t told me anything I didn’t already know. Well--’ Crowley flutters his lashes. ‘Apart from the bit about my eyes.’
‘If you’ll just have a little patience, dear,’ Aziraphale says and Crowley grins and makes an elaborate show of settling back in his chair, limbs sprawling, hands loosely locked over his belly. Aziraphale purses his lips but Crowley can see the smile lurking in the corners of his eyes. ‘So we took Will back to his rooms and -- you left.’
Crowley sniffs. ‘Yes. Well. Didn’t seem like you needed me around much. You and the future of literature.’ He can get into a good sulk about that even after all these centuries but then Aziraphale shakes his head and shifts position on the couch, stretching out his legs and patting the cushion between his knees.
‘You never seemed to catch the fact,’ Aziraphale says in his ear as Crowley settles himself along Aziraphale’s plush front, already one of his favorite places to lounge, ‘that I wanted to share the future of literature with you.’
Crowley starts and twists awkwardly around. ‘Angel! You never!’
Aziraphale is blushing and he gives a somewhat equivocal shrug. ‘Well. Perhaps not in all senses.’
‘As if he could have kept up anyway,’ Crowley sniffs and returns to making himself comfortable.
Aziraphale gives up and miracles the fire into better life and turns around. Will is struggling to sit up, one hand pressed to his head. He grimaces as he gets roughly vertical.
‘Would you like some water?’
Will grimaces again but nods and Aziraphale fills him a mug from the pitcher in the corner and hands it to him.
‘Where’s y’black friend?’ Will asks after draining the water.
‘He -- had an appointment.’
‘Mm.’ Will nods, then makes a face like he wishes he hadn’t. ‘She s’pretty. Rose. Rosa. Rosie?’ He grins up at Aziraphale and snaps his fingers. ‘S’not the girl, that’s the theatre.’
‘Adeline, I think.’ Aziraphale can only think of the barmaid at the pub they’d been at this evening.
‘S’it! Addy! Good sort Addy -- good girl -- good fuck.’ Will stretches and starts unlacing his shirt. ‘Y’friend’s got good taste.’
‘I’ll be sure to tell him you approve.’
Will snorts as he fumbles his way out of his loose over-shirt, tossing it on the floor. ‘He doesn’t like me.’
Aziraphale holds himself still for a minute. ‘Oh, I--’
Will waves a hand at him. ‘Nah, nah, s’all right.’ He taps himself clumsily on the chest. ‘Wouldn’t like me either.’
Will shrugs and manages, after two tries, to push himself to his feet. It takes Aziraphale a minute to realise Will is actually trying to take his boots off but he can’t figure out how to do it without standing on one foot with the other foot.
‘Sit down, sit down--’ Aziraphale goes down on one knee. ‘Give me your foot--’
They manage, between the two of them, to get Will’s boots off and he sits back, breathing heavily, and grins at Aziraphale. ‘Why d‘you hang around him ‘nyway?’
Aziraphale sets the second boot carefully by the first. ‘It’s -- a long story, Will.’
‘I like stories.’
‘I know you do.’
There’s a creaking noise as Will stretches himself out on the bed with a sigh. ‘Want to fuck?’
Aziraphale nearly falls over backwards but saves himself with a grab at the bedframe. ‘Excuse me!’
Will shrugs again and turns to look at him, tucking one hand under his head, palming his groin with the other. ‘Y’re awful pretty, ‘ziraph’.’
‘Thank you,’ Aziraphale says nonsensically and blinks.
‘Wait, wait, wait--’ Crowley twists himself around again. 'You’re telling me. The future of literature. The peak of English language composition. The absolute pinnacle of literary verse. Asked you to fuck?’
Aziraphale nods and Crowley can’t see the glimmer of a put-on in his face.
‘And told you you were pretty?’
‘Are you disagreeing?’
Crowley rolls his eyes and leans forward far enough to kiss the tip of Aziraphale’s nose.
‘In any case, the answer to both your questions is yes. That’s exactly what he did.’
‘...awful pretty...’ Will sighs again and this time his hand goes under the waistband of his trousers and Aziraphale shoves himself to his feet and back against the table hard enough to make the dishes rattle. Will pries open one eye and peers up at him. ‘...did I get it wrong again?’
‘Again,’ Aziraphale croaks.
Will sighs and pulls his hand out of his trousers. He looks less like a man on the verge of either ecstasy or shame than he does a child who’s been caught up past his bedtime. ‘’s what your friend did, too.’
Will waves a hand at him and curls around his pillow. ‘Got all...sniffy. S’why I said...doesn’t like me.’
‘Ah,’ Crowley says.
Crowley clears his throat and takes some comfort in the fact that, as Aziraphale had delivered his bombshell, he had also linked his hands comfortably over Crowley’s breastbone. Not exactly the move of an angel about to boot his longtime demon companion and more recently discovered lover into the street on the basis of-- ‘We were very drunk.’
‘I can imagine.’
Crowley licks his lips. ‘I mean, we’re talking past falling down here -- well into completely obliterated.’
Aziraphale pats his chest. ‘I have gotten drunk with you many times.’
‘But not once during any of those times from the seventeenth century onwards did you see fit to tell me that Will propositioned you.’
‘Fair’s fair!’ Crowley protests. ‘You didn’t tell me!’
Aziraphale makes a clucking noise in his throat. ‘Oh, you’d convinced yourself. Telling you anything to the contrary would have been a waste of time.’
‘So -- what? You didn’t?’
‘No, darling, as I have told you regularly since sometime around the second Anglo-Dutch war,’ Aziraphale sighs with the air of someone greatly put-upon; his thumb stroking over the soft skin under Crowley’s ear put the lie to that. ‘We didn’t. Will muttered something about your glorious eyes and passed out.’
‘My-- That bastard.’
‘You in the room and he’s got the bloody nerve to go on about my eyes!’
This time, Aziraphale does laugh and Crowley feels a kiss pressed into his hair. Aziraphale stays there, too, his breath warm against the top of Crowley’s head. ‘So what happened?’
Crowley shrugs. ‘We got pissed; he tried to grab my cock; I punched him; we moved on with our evening.’
‘Honestly, he didn’t even do it well, angel -- he mostly got my thigh -- it was nothing, I promise you.’
‘Why wasn’t I there? I didn’t think you ever willingly spent time with him without me.’
‘Well, not after that, I didn’t,’ Crowley says with a theatrical shudder. ‘You were gone somewhere -- that recluse up in Northumberland, I think.’
‘Oh, yes -- lovely cheese,’ Aziraphale says reminiscently, then shakes his head. ‘That still doesn’t answer my question.’
Crowley shrugs again, shifting a little uneasily until Aziraphale’s hands press over his shoulders and bring him back to stillness. ‘We both -- missed you, I think. I went to one of his stupid rehearsals because there was nothing else to do and then he asked if I wanted a drink and --’
‘And you didn’t...’ Aziraphale lets the sentence trail into delicate silence.
‘Fuck no, angel! He was yours if he was anybody’s and --’ Crowley hesitates for a long beat and then says, with the air of someone who has only just realised he can say things like this,’And I didn’t want someone who wasn’t you, so.’
‘That’s very sweet of you, dear,’ Aziraphale says, kissing the top of Crowley’s head, again. ‘But -- it still doesn’t answer my question.’
‘Why you didn’t tell me.’
‘Oh...’ Crowley sighs and wriggles himself slightly further down the couch so he can pillow his head on Aziraphale’s breast. ‘You liked him so much. It didn’t seem -- well, it wouldn’t have gotten me anything to tell you, would it?’
Aziraphale shrugs and starts to run his fingers through Crowley’s hair, combing it carefully away from his forehead. ‘I don’t know. It seems to me like a prime opportunity for demonic intervention. You could have played us off against each other -- you certainly could have made Will quite miserable.’
Crowley wrinkles his nose. ‘And have him pining around after you even more? No, thank you.’
‘After you, you silly thing.’
‘Oh -- ugh, that’s worse. Definitely not.’
‘So if I’m understanding you correctly,’ Aziraphale says, separating out a lock of hair just behind Crowley’s ear and twining it through his fingers. ‘You...declined to tell me a fairly pertinent piece of information about a mutual friend -- because it would have made me unhappy.’
‘Er. Well. I wouldn’t put it like that,’ Crowley says hurriedly. ‘It wouldn’t have made you very unhappy. And him not unhappy at all! Not really worth the effort, honestly.’
‘Which might be believable if you hadn’t also gone out of your way subsequently to push me and said mutual friend together.’ Aziraphale leans forward and grazes a kiss over the snake tattoo, his lips just brushing the tip of Crowley’s ear. ‘You’re a terrible demon, darling. And a worse matchmaker.’
Crowley snorts, reaching up to wind his fingers through Aziraphale’s where Aziraphale’s hand is still on his shoulder. ‘Well. If I’d actually wanted to succeed, maybe I would’ve been better at it.’
Aziraphale hums agreement and flicks open the top buttons of Crowley’s shirt with his free hand so he can press his palm to skin. ‘I’m sure I did nothing to help. At least, I certainly didn’t mean to help in any way.’
Crowley’s silent for a minute, then twists himself around again, planting one hand on the back of the couch to stabilize himself. ‘I was a jealous sod, Aziraphale. Demonic powers hardly came into it.’
‘And I didn’t know enough to reassure you,’ Aziraphale says, letting his hand trail up the length of Crowley’s throat to bury his fingers in his hair. ‘We’re both sorry for something.’ He smiles and leans forward to press kisses over Crowley’s eyebrows. ‘Isn’t it good we can make it up to each other.’