London – 1596
Shakespeare was as good of an excuse as any. The performances were always quite good, but the company was even more so.
It had started with a Comedy of Errors. Aziraphale had insisted that they arrive separately, but he’d made sure that a bench in the gallery remained empty for two of them. He’d been rewarded the pleasure of watching Crowley laugh out-loud several times throughout the evening. Crowley’s laughs were rare and precious things. Before going their separate ways, Aziraphale suggested they attend the next one together.
Unfortunately, Titus Andronicus had been a bust. Aziraphale was so sickened that he found he couldn’t even look over at Crowley the whole evening. He had been worried that the demon might approve of the horrors and sins on display. As Shakespeare raised the stakes in vengeance, mutilation and insanity, a wall came up between them. Was this the kind of bloodbath that demons were keen to induce in humans? As people began filing out of the theatre, Aziraphale had stiffly tried to take his leave. Crowley, who had been uncharacteristically silent, grabbed the angel’s sleeve and practically dragged him to the nearest public house. So much for arriving and leaving separately. It had taken a substantial amount of alcohol to shake them both out of their ruminations, but once Crowley found his voice, he began ranting loudly about humans in general and the offensiveness of Shakespeare in particular. Aziraphale found this to be a great comfort. They weren’t so different, after all.
Well, actually, of course they were, but at least they had a similar distaste for senseless cruelty... in theatrical performances, at least.
Still, perhaps that would be it for them and theatre.
But then, Shakespeare was back to comedies. At the opening performance of the Taming of the Shrew, Aziraphale and Crowley ran into each other again, completely by chance. That was how it had developed into something of a tradition, to arrive separately (accidentally) on the first day of a new production, sit together (out of politeness) and then discuss the play as Crowley escorted Aziraphale back to his lodgings.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the best one yet. Crowley had always had a thing for faeries, since Ireland all those years ago. Aziraphale was reminded once again that Crowley had more in common with a trickster like Puck, than he did with other demons. They both had a lovely time.
The next one was, unfortunately, another tragedy.
In the intervening months, Aziraphale had made a effort to gain the acquaintance of Will Shakespeare, who had assured him the upcoming play bore no resemblance to Titus. Crowley was unconvinced, but also unwilling to interrupt what he saw as a winning streak. Over two years, they’d seen each other four whole times. It was unprecedented. Which is why they’d gone ahead with Romeo and Juliet.
Crowley came armed with two bottles of alcohol. One for each of them, “In case of depravity, we’ll be so thoroughly pissed, we won’t notice.” Although depravity wasn’t on the menu this time, the star-crossed-lovers motif was somehow worse.
Aziraphale allowed himself to be carried along by the love story for a while, selectively forgetting what the prologue had promised. Crowley nursed his bottle throughout the performance, trying to cushion the blow he knew was coming. At odd moments, they’d glanced over at each other, and most times their companion was too absorbed to notice. Once, toward the end of the balcony scene, they did catch each other’s eyes. Aziraphale tried to smile, but Crowley’s expression was unreadable.
As the final act barreled toward the inevitable, Aziraphale was almost overwhelmed by the force of the love he was sensing. It was the humans of course, a whole huge room full of lovesick humans. That was it. Aziraphale kept his eyes fixed on the stage, certain, without knowing why, that looking over at the demon would be quite dangerous.
Crowley slouched, arms folded across his chest, scowling and defensive. Internally though, he had no defense, and his heart (an organ which Crowley maintained he did not possess) was lodged firmly in his throat. Humans lives were always so full. They risked more; they suffered more, and they got more out of their short existences than most demons got out of eternity. And at least these fictional characters had one night together. Must be nice. Something worth living for, or dying for, as the case may be. Shit. Here it comes, he thought, just like clockwork, and it wasn’t the ending of the play Crowley was finding predictable.
He kept his arms folded and refused to dry his eyes.
Aziraphale heard a sniffle next to him, and he quietly withdrew a handkerchief and passed it over without looking. Crowley considered this for a moment, before… Fuck it… He reached out and grabbed Aziraphale’s hand, catching the fingers and the handkerchief together, and then didn’t let go.
For a few moments, Aziraphale indulged in the feeling of Crowley awkwardly clutching his fingers. But as Romeo looked his last and took his last embrace, Aziraphale realized something. It all started out so innocently, “palm to palm” in the first act. Then, it was nothing but a torturous, slow descent toward heartbreak and oblivion.
Aziraphale could see the writing on the wall, and he refused the fate which was playing out before them. Unfortunately, Crowley wasn’t going to understand, and simply could not be trusted to keep himself in check. The soft-hearted demon sniffling at his side was nothing but a liability. It was all going to be up to him.
The angel might have appeared fluffy and gentle and prone to dithering, but he hadn’t been a guardian of Eden for nothing. When he set his mind to something, Aziraphale had an iron will. Usually, anyway. Crowley made it harder, but if they were to avoid the fearful passage of their death-mark’d love, then this was the perfect opportunity to practice strengthening his resolve.
He slipped his fingers deftly out of Crowley’s gasp, and folded his hands back in his lap. That hurt more than they could have expected.
By the time all the emotionally-wrecked humans were pouring out into the night, Aziraphale was quite calm. Crowley had also managed to pull it together, but he was cursing himself for agreeing to attend one of the gloomy ones. He always got so embarrassingly worked up.
They walked along the riverbank as the lamps were being lit. Crowley and Aziraphale had a pattern of discussing the play on their walk home, and their conversations were usually even more enjoyable than the show. This time, however, the demon was finding Aziraphale intolerable.
“You’re blaming THEM? You can’t be serious!”
Aziraphale sighed and continued his patient explanation. “I’m just saying they shouldn’t have let it get that far. From the beginning, they knew. Everyone knew. It just got progressively worse, increasingly impossible… and yet what did they do? They spend the night!”
“Did you even watch the same play I did? Because, yeah it’s terribly maudlin bullshit, but-“
Aziraphale didn’t let him finish. “Of course, it never could have worked out, but at least they would have lived.”
Crowley couldn’t stand it when the angel was intentionally avoiding the most important point. “I can’t believe a demon has to point this out to you but… They were in love, Aziraphale! You know, Love?”
“In lust, you mean.”
Crowley’s face scrunched up in appalled confusion. “… the fuck, angel?” He couldn’t even articulate how stupid that sounded.
“The priest should have counseled them to control themselves. He actually said it at one point, ‘these violent delights have violent ends’.”
“Christ, you’ve memorized it already?”
“Like fire and powder….”
There was a long pause. In fact, they both had supernaturally accurate memories. “Which as they kiss consume,” Crowley finished. “You’re a real romantic, angel. G’night.” He turned away and took a few unsteady steps.
“Wait.” Aziraphale called.
Crowley stopped but did not turn. His head fell backward in exasperation, and he looked up at the sky for a long moment. Apparently, he wouldn’t be leaving, yet. “Tug my jesses…” he murmured as he turned and came back to Aziraphale’s side. He tossed his hands silently in the universal gesture for what-do-you-want-now.
Aziraphale’s eyes skittered over Crowley’s frame. “I… I have forgot why I did call you back.”
Crowley’s thoughts immediately jumped the tracks. Were they doing that scene, now? Because he remembered that scene. The lines had to be in there somewhere. Smart demon, good memory. Please let me remember the lines right, and we can do that scene.
“Let me stay till you remember it.”
Aziraphale was starting to unravel. He heard himself say, “Remembering how I love thy company.”
“Um… Forgetting any home by this.”
“No,” the angel whispered. This was what he’d been afraid of, and clumsy fools that they were, they had fallen into it, face-first.
“NO, Crowley.” He said more firmly.
Crowley peered over the top of his glasses, and said dryly, “Well, then, whatever this is… You’re really shit at this.”
“I’m shit at this,” Aziraphale agreed, terribly disappointed in himself.
“Might I suggest that you pick a lane? Stay on-message.”
“Ok, you’re right. Just. Just give me a moment.” Aziraphale covered his face, rubbed his eyes rather mercilessly. Crowley waited looking out at the river and the lights reflected in the dark water. “Here’s what I think,” the angel said, finally. “It’s not nearly as tragic as it seems. They’re humans, right?”
“Right.” Crowley didn’t think this counted as a realization.
“So even if they die at the end, there’s nothing, well, nothing unusual about that. And they get to be together, in Heaven. They are only apart for a very short time. It’s just a couple of minutes, before they’re together forever.”
How much plainer did he have to be? Was Crowley being deliberately obtuse? “And their parents! Think on it. Their families bury their strife?” Aziraphale scoffed. “What waring families, in your experience, have been known to bury the hatchet? Ever? At all?”
Crowley continued pushing. “So, let me get this straight. The play we watched was too naively optimistic? Not realistic enough for you?”
“Crowley, listen to me. It wouldn’t happen that way. Wouldn’t for… It would be much, much worse.”
Aziraphale’s back was straight as a sword, but his eyes were pleading. Crowley pulled his glasses off, and they hung forgotten from his fingers as he searched the angel’s gaze. What he found there wasn’t love exactly, but it might have been the ghost of it, turned in on itself and twisted into its polar opposite: fear. Bone deep terror. Nothing so human as a fear of death, but of an emptiness far greater. Aziraphale might be afraid of falling (who in their right mind wouldn’t be), but this was a fear of something else. Loneliness. The bleakness of eternity alone.
Suddenly, Crowley understood. Juliet’s father had been cruel. Heaven was crueler. Juliet had begged the priest for death. Aziraphale would have no recourse, no clever little vial. No hope.
“Parted forever,” Crowley murmured, “that’s what’s got you so…”
Aziraphale pressed his lips together and balled up his fists in something like fury. “Do NOT speak of it.”
In Crowley’s mind, they were already speaking of it, near it, under it, over it and adjacent to it. He answered as gently as he could, “But they had one beautiful night. Two, if you count the balcony.”
“More fools, they.” Aziraphale said spitefully.
Crowley closed the distance between them. “They were happy, angel.” He was trying to pour comfort and courage into his voice. “They knew, whatever came after… they knew that they were loved.”
“Tempting? Really?” The angel sputtered, and then all his anger came forward, like unsheathing a flaming sword. “How dare you, Crowley! I don’t think you’ve ever been more out of line.”
Crowley backed up a step, now, finally, properly wounded. “You’re crazy, Aziraphale. I wasn’t!”
“You’ve pulled some legendary temptations in your time… but never one as selfish as this!”
“That’s what you think of me? Fine.” Crowley slipped his glasses back on and set his armor in place. “I’m a selfish tempter, and Romeo and Juliet are just lustful children, and you get to deny that there’s any love in any of it. How angelic! Cold comfort in the long nights, I think.” And with those words hanging like a curse, Crowley strolled away into the dark.
Next time, they would meet for professional Arrangement purposes only.
The flat above the bookshop - 2019
Crowley fit snugly into the curve of Aziraphale’s arm, his leg draped over and tangled up. He tried to squirm closer, even though it wasn’t physically possible to get much closer, what with every inch of them already skin to skin. Aziraphale was staring at the ceiling, lost in thought, one hand petting absently down his demon’s bony back.
Crowley murmured something unintelligible into his angel’s shoulder. It was just a weird collection of sounds, but so full of love that it sounded like poetry to Aziraphale’s ears.
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea.” He answered.
“Hmm?” Crowley didn’t think this was a time for words, really, but he roused himself enough to hear the next bit clearly.
“… my love as deep. The more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.”
Crowley blinked up at him. “Is that one of Will’s?”
“Romeo and Juliet.” Aziraphale confirmed.
The demon went deadpan. “Your favorite.”
“It is, rather.” He admitted, shyly. “I read it quite a lot. Although I probably shouldn’t. It’s like worrying at a wound that won’t heal. Particularly, you know… 'Prodigious birth of love it is to me, that I must love a loathed enemy.'”
“Yeah. That’s us, alright. I only ever watched it that once.”
Aziraphale sighed. “I think, sometimes, if I started apologizing now, it might take another 6,000 years to get through my backlog.”
“Nah, nowhere near that long,” Crowley assured him. “A thousand. Fifteen hundred, tops.” He expected Aziraphale to give him a smack, or at least chide him for being an ass. Nothing.
Instead, the angel said, “I was wrong about the play, and I was wrong about you. I was wrong about the future. And wrong about myself, of course. Not much more that I could be wrong about, actually.”
“Your fashion choices?” He suggested, helpfully. This did earn him a smack, and the demon grinned. Still got it.
“So much love. You’ve got to understand, I was drowning in it.”
“I do understand.” Crowley tried to head this off. There didn’t seem to be any reason to rehash it, now that they were finally swimming, instead of drowning.
“Drowning, and flailing and striking out,” the angel continued. “I called you selfish. And didn’t I just have that backward? When I couldn’t give you what you deserved, because I was so scared…” Aziraphale’s voice broke. “I couldn’t bear it if you were taken away from me. I’d… It would just be nothing, empty, forever. I don’t think I’d be as brave as Juliet.” Aziraphale began to cry.
Crowley sat up immediately, “Hey, hey, hey.” He wiped the angel’s cheeks and stroked his hair, whispering “shhh”, and trying inexpertly to stop the tears. When that didn’t seem to help, Crowley clamored up on top of Aziraphale and knelt on the bed, straddling him. “That’s not going to happen.” He placed both hands on the angel’s chest. “You won’t be alone. We’re joined at the hip now. Wherever you go, I’m going. Wherever I go… well…” he faltered. “You’re welcome to-”
“I’m going.” Aziraphale finished for him.
Crowley grinned. “And besides, we’re not Romeo and Juliet. I thought we were for a while too, but we’re much smarter.”
“Wiley?” Aziraphale asked with a watery little smile.
“Exactly. We turned the tables on them. They’re scared of US now!”
“I’ve been scared for so long. That’s going to take some getting used to.”
The crying seemed to be over, and Crowley suddenly realized how chilly it was above the covers. “Well, I’m getting used to this already,” he said as he slithered back down next to the angel’s warmth.
Aziraphale pulled the blankets back up and wrapped both arms around Crowley, resting his cheek against the soft russet hair. “We foiled our stars. You’re not supposed to be able to do that. I think Will would be impressed.”
“Not supposed to be able to thwart the Great Plan either, angel.”
“I just wish I could have had faith in this at the time. You know… You’ve taught this angel a thing or two about faith.”
Crowley wiggled, noncommittally. “That’s not very demonic. Are you sure you’re not thinking of someone else?”
“Nope. I’m quite certain it’s you I’m thinking of. No one else in the world walks like that.” He kissed the top of his demon’s head. “You believed it would be worth it. ‘One night’, you said. ‘One beautiful night, and knowing that you’re loved.’ And you were right.”
Crowley twisted around until he found one of Aziraphale’s hands and laced their fingers together. “This... ‘gentle sin’ is it? Worth whatever comes after?”
“Yes, love. Definitely.”