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The Play's The Thing

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It seemed that the expression “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” extended to all of Earth, or at least that’s what Crowley discovered as he and Aziraphale laid low from their superior officers. They shared a nice little cottage in Oxfordshire, not far from the Antichrist. It seemed like the right thing to do at this point in their relationship, after all they’d been through.

The neighbors regarded them as an eccentrically wealthy gay couple, which gave them a lot of social clout. They were sought-after dinner party guests, and their opinions on all issues, great or small, were requested as the final word. Heads turned to them, waiting for their verdict on a new tax referendum or how to word a wedding invitation, and Aziraphale would scramble to say something wise and Crowley would make up some dismissive bullshit.

And then--it was strange--they became the respected, eccentrically wealthy gay human couple that others expected. They shared a bed. Aziraphale took to sleeping. They read the morning paper over breakfast. Crowley took to eating. They went on drives. Aziraphale did not take to driving. He never got behind the wheel of a car. Crowley might have considered letting him if he asked--but he knew Aziraphale would never ask.

Aziraphale kept his bookstore and Crowley kept his flat. They teleported back and forth as needed. Even the best couples needed time to themselves, and they were privileged enough to maintain several expensive properties (and to not be bound by space and time). But they used their personal spaces less than they thought they would. It turns out that Aziraphale’s love of cozy clutter and Crowley’s taste for sleek expanses could be balanced by having a moderate amount of possessions, stored sensibly, and any interpersonal issues could be solved by sulking until they didn’t want to sulk anymore and then resuming their usual dynamic.

One morning over breakfast, Aziraphale mentioned that the local theatre was planning to do Hamlet. He did so while looking at the newspaper, so Crowley assumed it was an offhand remark to some negligible blurb in the local news, which Aziraphale read, embarrassingly enough.

“That’s a strange choice. Don’t they usually do the, what’s it, the one where everyone dies?” Crowley asked.

“That’s Hamlet.

“No, the other one where everyone dies. With the boys, and the singing, it’s in France…”

Les Miserables!”

“That’s the one.”

“Well, they’re doing Hamlet this year.”

Blech. If they had to do a non-comedy Shakespeare play, why couldn’t they do a crowd-pleaser like Cymbeline or Titus Andronicus?

“I assume you want to see it.” Crowley decided not to voice the glimmer of suspicion that crossed his mind about the fact that a local theatre happened to decide to do, of all things, Hamlet , when until now they were content doing the likes of Les Mis and The Music Man.

“Actually, no.”

Crowley shot a quick thank you to whoever was responsible for the quick resolution and the fact that he wouldn’t need to sit through bloody Hamlet bloody again. Hamlet was fine the first ten thousand times but after that? Hamlet in space, Hamlet in fursuits, Hamlet in an apocalyptic wasteland, Hamlet in a mental asylum (tacky, even by Crowley’s standards), Hamlet fused with Kakfa’s Metamorphosis, one-man Hamlet, one-woman Hamlet, Hamlet played by two men finishing each other’s sentences, Hamlet as a cartoon lion.

Aziraphale continued, “I was thinking of auditioning.”

“Auditioning? For--for what?”

“For the play.”

A long, uncomfortable silence stretched between them in which Crowley cursed whomever he’d thanked. “As a dramaturg?”

“As an actor. Dramaturgs don’t audition.”

“What role?”

“Hamlet, of course.”

“Of course. Er, no offense, but acting isn’t what angels are known for. Isn’t it a beast of a role for a first-timer?” Angels were bad at lying and acting was a glorified form of lying. It’s why Heaven had no claim to any thespian, successful or not: the mere act of performing was inherently demonic. As soon as a sprightly youth dreamed of being on camera or ventured on stage, their soul was damned. (Stage hands, however, were, for the most part, angelic.)

Angels were also bad at detecting lying, having never needed to develop the skill, so Aziraphale was unlikely to notice the strain and fragile tact in Crowley’s voice (tact being a skill that demons never needed to develop).

“I suppose so,” Aziraphale sighed, resigned. “But ooh, no one knows Hamlet better than I do. I feel like I can bring something to the role.”

In one respect, this was obviously true, and it was true to an extent that no creature on earth matched. But in another, more important way, that didn’t matter: some of the smartest, most dedicated people were terrible actors, and some of the dumbest and laziest were...well. Crowley needn’t finish that thought. And in a third way, it was completely untrue: no one could bring anything more to the role.

“Perhaps you can write a paper. Or a book! Crack this whole Hamlet case wide open,” Crowley suggested. There’d be the tricky issue of citation and Aziraphale’s spotty memory, and the final product would seem more like the apocryphal ramblings of a madman than a reputable scholarly source, but Aziraphale’s talents were much better suited to academia, the least glamorous of all disciplines.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you don’t want me to perform.” Aziraphale carefully set his tea cup down, eyes fixed on Crowley. Angels were bad at reading liars, but Aziraphale was good at reading him.

“Why on earth...I’d be delighted...I’d love to see you perform. I just know how anxious you get. It’s a big role, especially for someone who’s never acted before.”

“I’ve acted before. I pretended to be you, didn’t I?”

“That’s different. You know me intimately.”

“Who was at the very first rehearsal, hmm? Who read over Shakespeare’s shoulder as he put ink to parchment? If anything, I know Hamlet just as intimately as I know you.” Aziraphale picked up his teacup again and looked at Crowley over the rim of it. “Maybe even more.”

Crowley was tempted to ask if he’d fucked Hamlet.

It was like quicksand or Devil’s Snare—the more he struggled, the worse it got. So Crowley faked some cheeriness and said, “Well, it sounds like you were born to play the Danish prince. Tell me, er, does it take place anywhere other than 15th century Denmark? Is there any sort of framing device?”


 

Community theatre was, surprisingly, an angelic suggestion so nightmarish in execution that Crowley almost wanted to take credit for it but, ultimately, he did not want to be held responsible for community theatre. No one did. Let the angels live with their mistake.

Except now, he had to live with their mistake, having an actor in the house.

When Aziraphale came home, cast in the titular role, Crowley had three competing thoughts: one, that Aziraphale had actually been good enough beat out a number of talented actors, so no need to worry about his skill; two, that Aziraphale had been adequate enough but competition had been scarce; or three--a quiet, tiny little inkling of a notion of a possibility, that was nevertheless potent in Crowley’s brain--that Aziraphale had been dreadful, and used some power of suggestion to win the part. Aziraphale would never. (OK, Aziraphale might. ) Crowley pummelled that last idea into dust and congratulated his partner.

At first, Crowley hoped that his own involvement would be limited to listening to gossip and letting Aziraphale vent about whatever petty politics he was dealing with, what’s-her-name not getting her cues or what’s-his-name spatting with the directors. Parking spaces or whatever it was actors fought about. Stealing lunches from the communal fridge. Maybe that was just an office thing.

Under no circumstances did he want to hear about method or craft or other silly acting nonsense. So help him if Aziraphale started talking in iambic pentameter or stabbing at curtains or any of that Stanislavski nonsense. And they were not to read lines in their own home. That was what rehearsal was for. If Aziraphale asked, he would get a firm, hard, absolute no.

Crowley thought he was safe until, a few nights after rehearsals began, Aziraphale asked, “Crowley, would you mind reading lines with me?”

“Now? But the show is on.” Crowley gestured to the television in front of him, the screen frozen on the Netflix homepage.

“What show?”

Crowley scrolled through the Recommendations. “This documentary about, uh...a murder. Ooh, that sounds dark. Kidnapping. Hmm...These are all quite miserable.”

“If you don’t want to read lines with me, just say so,” Aziraphale huffed.

“Fine. Which scene?” Crowley turned off the TV and set the remote on the table.

“The nunnery scene.”

The nunnery scene. He should have known.

“I’m Ophelia, then?” Crowley asked.

“If you don’t mind.” Aziraphale smiled sweetly. If he had any less shame, he’d bat his eyelashes, Crowley thought bitterly.

“‘Oh, help him, you sweet heavens!’” Crowley raised his fist and shook it at the sky. If he was going to do it, he could at least have a bit of fun mocking it.

“Get THEE to a NUNNERY. Sorry. Er, GET thee to A nunnery! A nunNERY. GO. FareWELL.”

Crowley looked up, surprised. Aziraphale, taking the piss out of his most revered play? But when he saw Aziraphale’s face, Crowley realized that Aziraphale was acting in earnest.

It was troubling.

“What’s with the, er, the emphasis? Emphases,” Crowley corrected. He’d never needed to pluralize “emphasis” before, and he resented that he needed to.

“Well, it’s an emphatic scene, so it should be…”

“Emphasized?” Crowley offered.

“Exactly.”

Crowley stared at the page.

“It’s your line,” Aziraphale coaxed.

“Right. Er. I think the emphasis is a bit too literal. The emphasis should come from the emotion, not from the literal emphasis on the syllables.”

“Can’t it come from both?”

“Theoretically…” Crowley said, delicately.

“I don’t understand.”

“Maybe the literal emphasis on the syllables is overpowering the emotion of the delivery. Maybe. A little bit.”

“Are you saying I’m a bad actor?”

“No! No. No, nonono, of course not, noooooo…But what if you tried it by pronouncing the words like a normal human person and instilling emotion somehow else?”

“Hmm,” Aziraphale said, eyes scanning the writing. “Interesting. I never thought of it that way.” Aziraphale’s eyes remained fixed on the page.

“Want to give it a go?” Crowley asked after an agonizing while.

“He’s just so awful to her. I don’t think I could find it in me to be that awful.”

“That’s not true. You can be downright nasty.”

Aziraphale glared at him.

Wrong thing to say, then. Luckily, Crowley always had a failsafe. “Shall we get something to eat?”

There was a moment when Aziraphale didn’t respond and Crowley thought that his failsafe had failed--that Aziraphale was too caught up in this play nonsense or that Crowley had actually touched a nerve by pointing out that the angel had the potential to be nasty, even though that was a compliment of the highest order to a demon. But then Aziraphale suggested the little French bistro on the corner, and it turned out Aziraphale had just been considering his options.


It was strange how, the more time passed, the further away opening night seemed. It should have been the opposite.

It was also strange how, the more he rehearsed, the worse Aziraphale got. That, too, should have been the opposite.

“Your brother’s husband--oh, bugger, your husber’s--my, it’s a lot of words.” Aziraphale removed a handkerchief and dabbed his forehead with it.

“Husband’s. Brother’s. Wife.” Crowley said slowly, hoping he didn’t sound as impatient and condescending as he felt. By now, Crowley knew the lines and could deliver them. And he wasn’t just saying that out of sheer arrogance that an actor’s job was easy and anyone could just parrot some words. No, Crowley had tested his own acting chops. While Aziraphale was at rehearsal, he’d say the lines in front of the mirror, whatever it was Aziraphale had botched that day, at first by rote memorization and then with feeling. And--would it were not so!--you are my mother.

He’d raise his voice and do Gertrude, as well: Nay, then I’ll set those to you that can speak.

Then he’d raise his voice even higher and say, “Nyeh, nyeh, I’m Hamlet, I’m an idiot who screws everything up because I’m afraid of a little avunculicide, so I’m just going to mince about for three hours and bore everyone with my boring speeches .

“Husband’s brother’s wife,” Aziraphale repeated. He looked at Crowley and smiled placidly. “It’s hard, isn’t it?”

“I wouldn’t want to do it,” Crowley answered honestly. Come, come, and sit you down. You shall not budge.

Aziraphale cleared his throat, ready for take two. “You are my husband’s brother’s wife--”

Crowley cleared his throat.

“Oh, right,” Aziraphale said. “You are the QUEEN, my husband’s brother’s wife--”

Crowley cleared his throat again.

Aziraphale looked at him quizzically. “What? Husband’s brother’s wife--”

“'Your husband’s brother’s wife.”

"You’re my husband,” Aziraphale said, confused.

“The line.”

“Right! Oh. Of course. ‘ Your husband’s brother’s wife. And wereitwouldnotso myMOTHER!’” He slashed awkwardly in the direction of the curtain. “Wait, no, that’s a few lines ahead…”

“Maybe you’re so inundated with Hamlet that it’s all getting jumbled in your head. You’ve got hundreds of years of deliveries and blocking and interpretation. It’s almost too much for a single creature to bear.” The creature he was referring to was himself.

“But that’s the amazing thing about Hamlet. It’s never too much.”

Crowley smiled thinly and held back a comment. Inside, he drafted a scathing review he could never write: The real tragedy of Hamlet is off-stage, in the lead performer’s living room.


Crowley felt like he was living in an absurd play-within-a-play nightmare, becoming Hamlet by becoming Hamlet while the person who was supposed to become Hamlet drifted further and further away until--the thought made him sweat cold--he had to take the mantle on opening night.

Call him a silly idealist or whatever, but Crowley was hoping that The Most Overrated Soliloquy Of All Time would change the course of events. Aziraphale would say the words, the words that he could not possibly mess up, and, like divine intervention, it would all snap into place: whatever feelings Aziraphale had experienced during the highest highs of human creative output would transform him into a conduit for such magic and he’d master the role from there on out.

Or, better yet, the existential horror would grip him like tentacles of futility and he’d decide theatre was useless and he’d quit.

Turns out Crowley was an idiot and should have known better than to rely on divine intervention. He was a demon, for Hell’s sake.

“To be or not to be…I got those words down, don’t I? TO BE!!!!!!! OR NOT!!!! TO BE! THAT. IS THE. Line.”

“‘Question.’”

“No, line. I need the line.”

“The line is ‘question.’”

“Is that right?” Aziraphale asked. He flipped through his script. “Ah. Here we are. ‘To be or not to be. That...is the QUESTION.’”

The question that Crowley always wound up asking when he watched Hamlet was “When will it end?” It was one of two questions he was thinking right now.

The other question was, “How in hell-heaven-and-Earth could you mess up the most famous line in the play, nay, the single most famous line in all of human creation?” Crowley was almost offended. No, not offended--the Bard could do to be taken down a few pegs, if you asked him. But he imagined the indignation Aziraphale would feel if anyone else dared forget the immortal lines.

Performances were fast approaching, but not fast enough; there was still plenty of time of suffering through painful acting and biting his tongue. If he had to put up with it, he might as well do something to help--not just for Aziraphale, but for his own sanity.

Crowley stood up and circled around Aziraphale. “In this scene, how is Hamlet feeling?”

“Sad?”

“How sad?”

“Er, very.”

“What type of sadness?” He hated actors. He loathed directors. What was he becoming?

“Er...a very sad...sadness. Absolutely miserably sad.”

“When I read these words, I think despair. He’s almost too sad to be sad, really. Imagine how defeated one would have to feel to get to this point. ‘To be or not to be…’” Crowley began, gently. He said the whole soliloquy as if possessed--ugh, he sounded like an actor now--letting the contours and curves of the words shape him-- the insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit of th'unworthy takes-- plunging him into the whispered despair of the only universal human experience-- the undiscovere'd country, from whose bourn no traveller returns -- until the final, almost post-coital exhale. And lose the name of action.

What rubbish. When was the last time anyone said bodkin?

It had been nothing, really, just some offhand recitation imbued with maybe a dash of feeling, but when he looked up Aziraphale was staring at him, mesmerized.

“Oh. Oh. That was good.” Crowley could tell that Aziraphale was trying to use an impressed tone to beat back his jealousy, but his misty eyes couldn’t hide his envy.

OK, maybe Crowley’s monologue had been good (exceptional, even revelatory) but he tried to wave it away. “It was nothing, really.”

“You’re better than me and you don’t even like Hamlet.”

“It’s not about liking Hamlet. Hamlet doesn’t even like Hamlet. In fact, that gives me the edge.” He’d said the word “Hamlet” so much that it was starting to sound like a real word, not a stupid, made-up name.

“What is it about, then? What’s the point of all this? For the life of me, I can’t figure it out. I’ve seen all the great actors perform this part. I’ve seen a good number of terrible ones. Every time, I’ve managed to feel something. Every time. Even Thomas Cruise at the Hollywood Bowl last year managed to evoke something from me. I sat in that bloody American stadium and thought, ‘What can’t these words overcome?’ Time. War. Thomas Cruise. And the answer is me. I’ve defeated Hamlet.”

Would that it were so, thought Crowley. But Aziraphale’s sad misty eyes made him bite back whatever sarcastic comments he wanted to make. Angels weren’t supposed to tear up. It was a horrible sight.

Aziraphale stared at the crumpled papers clenched in his fists. “These words I’ve heard a hundred times are flatter than the paper they’re on. Some of these are mine. ‘Slings and arrows?’ I thought of that. ‘Insolence of office?’ That was me, too. And now I can’t even get past the first ten words.‘To be or not to be, that is the query…’”

“‘Question,’” Crowley corrected before he could stop himself.

“‘Question!’ There are primary school children who could do this.”

It hurt to see Aziraphale in such despair. Crowley pushed into his upper limit of sympathy to provide comfort. He squeezed his arms around Aziraphale and rubbed his back consolingly.

“It’s just community theatre...Most people will probably be asleep…”

Aziraphale pulled away and looked affronted. “Well. If it’s alright with you, then, I think I’ll spend the night at the shop. In London. Where people don’t sleep.”

“Oh, angel, don’t be that way,” Crowley pouted, but it was too late. Aziraphale had vanished.


In an unsurprising case of life imitating art, things progressed from bad to worse. Poor Yorick’s prop skulls were crushed under Aziraphale’s anxious grip, and in any scene involving drink or poison, the liquid was sure to wind up splashed on the carpet. The more he rehearsed, the fewer words Aziraphale remembered--fewer words of Hamlet, specifically, because he somehow managed to recite passages of Amadeus and The Seagull perfectly.

One night, they were practicing the final scene in their living room, with Crowley as Horatio cradling Aziraphale’s body, wishing him good night and flights of angels blah blah blah, when he heard a low, squeaking ripping noise.

“Did you...did you just fart?” Crowley asked. Angels weren’t supposed to fart.

Aziraphale blinked up at him. “Yes, I thought it would demonstrate the vulnerability and vulgarity of death.”

Crowley dropped Aziraphale and stood up. Propping himself up on his forearms as Crowley paced the room, Aziraphale explained that some people voided their bowels as they passed away, and he thought that, as an actor, it was his duty--er, no pun intended--to replicate that viscerality as best as he could.

Crowley buried his face in his hands. “Don’t fart during your death scene.”

“Thank you for your note. I will take it under consideration.” Aziraphale said primly, rising to his feet and straightening his suit jacket.

“Don’t fart.”

“Ivo van Hove had Roy Cohn defecate himself in his production of Angels in America.”

“Well if Ivo bloody van Hove did it, it must brilliant.”

“Do you even know who Ivo van Hove is?”

“Yes. He’s a Dutch weirdo and I’m not going to argue with you over his scatalogical directorial choices.”

It wasn’t the concept of farting so much that bothered Crowley, although that was certainly a consideration. It was the idea that Aziraphale might embarrass himself, even more than he already would. But he couldn’t say “I don’t want you to embarrass yourself on stage,” because that would plant the idea that Aziraphale might embarrass himself, and that would be a whole big spiral inside a spiral inside the most famous spiral in literary history. So instead, Crowley shrugged and said, “If you want to be derivative, then by all means.”

Aziraphale narrowed his eyes and cleared his throat. “I will take it under consideration,” he repeated, but Crowley knew he’d once more saved the angel from certain doom.


 

At least by opening night, in addition to discovering that Aziraphale was a terrible actor, Crowley discovered he, himself, was a great one—good enough to look his lover in the face and say that his performance shaped up to be one of the compelling ones of all time. “Brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” Crowley repeated in the mirror, right before the show. Aziraphale had walked there earlier to get into costume and do whatever hokey pre-show rituals actors do. “You were unstoppable, a theatrical tour de force…I don’t think you can top a performance like that. That was a swan song, that was.”

Actors were notoriously superstitious, but they had every reason to be: theaters were cursed, cursed places, and Crowley knew he was about to witness a most wretched spectacle. He hesitated to drive his poor Bentley anywhere near the vicinity, but he needed the emotional support, and at least his car wouldn’t need to suffer in the audience.

“Be there for me when I get out, will you?” He asked, fondly touching the car’s hood as he parked it in front of the community center. It was hard finding a spot right out front--so he’d heard.

He took a seat in an awful folding chair, surrounded by what looked like an entire senior citizens' home, some future theatre kids, bored couples trying to culture themselves a bit more. He could fall asleep under his sunglasses, and no one would know...but Aziraphale would sense it. As much as the prospect of sitting through a terrible Hamlet pained Crowley, the thought of disappointing Aziraphale hurt worse. So he’d stay awake for every minute of torture.

He barely paid attention to the first scene. The actors were fine, decent, not the worst actors he’d ever seen on stage. They were good enough to make Aziraphale look even worse, he thought with a pang.

Hamlet’s first scene was mostly standing around, and, guiltily, Crowley wondered how Aziraphale would botch it. But he didn’t. His reactions were natural, even understated.

“But now,” Claudius said, “our cousin, Hamlet, and our son--”

“A little more kin and less than kind,” Aziraphale sneered. The delivery was good enough to give Crowley a fleeting moment of hope, but, he reminded himself, it was just eight words.

It was when Aziraphale delivered his first major chunk of dialogue, the trappings and suits of woe nonsense, that Crowley let himself breathe.

And then, when Hamlet was alone on stage, mourning his father--the first true test of acting mettle---Crowley found himself leaning forward in his seat, practically folding himself in half.

Aziraphale was good. Actually good. Blessedly, damnably good. Phenomenal, even. It didn’t take long for Crowley to stop waiting for a slip-up. There was not a single false note in his performance, not one misremembered line. He was also generous and transformative--the other players improved tenfold with him in the mix. By the end, Crowley was on his feet, applauding in earnest appreciation of his least favorite play. A genuine standing ovation, a rare thing nowadays, even rarer in an auditorium full of folding chairs.

“I know him,” he elatedly told the seniors and the couples as they filed out of the room. “The guy who played Hamlet--we live together.”


 

After taking a moment in the bathroom to compose himself, Crowley ventured backstage, flowers in hand. Purchasing them seemed like something he needed to do, being the de facto husband of the de facto star and all that, but at the time he had felt like he was buying flowers to put on a coffin. Now, they felt celebratory and deserved.

The energy backstage was jubilant. He leaned in the doorway, flowers dangling from his hand, watching the actors flutter about in their post-performance high, running around the room helping each other out of costumes and makeup, praising one another’s performances. Ophelia--Crowley didn’t know her real name--caught sight of him and gasped.

“Oh! You must be the famous Crowley!” She was a little Welsh girl who looked quite young, almost distractingly so, especially against Aziraphale’s much older Hamlet. It was refreshing that Aziraphale had absolutely no romantic chemistry with her.

Everyone turned to gawk. It was nice to grab some of the attention from the night, especially since the attention turned out to be positive.

“If I’d known I was going to get this reception, I’d have come sooner,” Crowley sauntered in and handed the flowers to Aziraphale. Aziraphale stood up and kissed Crowley’s cheek.

“I think Mr. Fell likes building up anticipation,” Horatio said. He had a thick Scottish brogue that he forced into an indistinguishable English-ish accent during the show. Aziraphale had lots of chemistry with him. According to Aziraphale, he was dating Ophelia, a fact that didn’t matter to Crowley at the time, but now was quite a relief.

“Yes, he’s quite good at that. You were incredible! Unbelievable!” Crowley gushed.

“Why are you surprised? He had it from day one. Came into auditions, blew everyone away. He’s a natural,” Ophelia said.

“A natural? Supernatural’s more like. He claims he never acted before, but I think he’s a ringer,” Horatio added.

“No, look! Even his husband’s surprised. I think he was telling the truth. And you couldn’t turn up anything when you Googled him...”

“Maybe he’s got his husband tricked, too. We’ll never know. He’s too good.”

Horatio clapped Aziraphale’s shoulder, took Ophelia’s hand, and went off to a corner to get down to their skivvies. Crowley looked at Aziraphale, half-admonishing, half-incredulous.

“So you were acting like a bad actor this entire time? Why?”

“To show you,” Aziraphale said, with great intent, “how good an actor I am.”

“You bastard. You absolute bastard, ” Crowley spat. Aziraphale had been toying with him the entire time. Wheedling him to read lines. The misty-eyed monologue about destroying Hamlet. The farting. All to prove a point. “That is so fucking hot.”

He pushed Aziraphale against the wall and kissed him, vaguely aware of the delighted gasps and whistles and “Oh, he always struck me as rather sexless” in the background.

“I knew you’d like it,” Aziraphale said breathlessly once Crowley pulled away.

“Performance of a lifetime.”

“You love it when I’m wily like that, don’t you,” Aziraphale murmured in a dangerously low voice.

“God and Satan,” Crowley growled, “you had me going for weeks. You didn’t let up for a second. Breaking the skulls, spilling the wine, forgetting ‘that is the question!’” He punctuated the list with bites down Aziraphale’s neck and then, as if doused by cold water, stopped. “Wait. When you said my soliloquy was good, did you mean that?”

“What? Yes, of course.”

Crowley held Aziraphale at arm’s length and studied his face for any signs of deception.

Ophelia used that moment to timidly invite them to the cast party at Nando’s.

Aziraphale, still pinned to the wall and in Crowley’s grip, turned his head to her and smiled weakly. “We’ll meet up with you there.”

The rest of the cast departed, and Crowley went back to business:

“Did you really think I was good?”

Yes. So good, in fact, I think I can suggest the perfect Benedick for Much Ado About Nothing.

“Ooh, I actually like that one! Wait, who’d you be, then?”

“Beatrice,” Aziraphale said, as if it were obvious, then explained, “Gender-bent casting is all the rage nowadays. Or whatever it is humans perceive as ‘gender’ and ‘bending.’”

“Brilliant. Nando’s, then?”

Aziraphale rolled his eyes, considering. He hated Nando’s, but they both loved attention, and the prospect of basking in the adulation of enthusiastic actors was too tempting to resist. They had both earned a night of compliments and camaraderie drinking.

But, if you asked Crowley, he earned it more.