And Lose the Name of Action
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?
Hamlet, Hamlet, III.i
"Dantalion, are you decent?"
"That depends entirely on your definition of decent," Dantalion answered, his voice muffled through the dressing-room door. "Though I can't say I ever have been, now that you mention it."
William muttered an oath under his breath and yanked the door open. Seeing Dantalion there, he had to concede the demon's assessment of the matter. Dantalion was wearing his trousers, and nothing on the face of it would have caused ladies to faint. On the other hand, something about the way the straps of his bracers bit into his bare shoulders was decidedly indecent, and the angle of his hips alone was cause for scandal.
"That," William declared, ignoring Dantalion's hips to the best of his ability, "was an utter debacle. Where's Sytry? I want him to hear this, too."
"He went back to the dorm," Dantalion said, twirling King Claudius' crown thoughtfully on his finger. "Still in his Ophelia dress. Said he didn't want to change." Dantalion checked himself, the crown faltering in its orbit. "Actually, I don't think that dress even belongs to the Dramatics costume closet. It's probably actually his."
"I don't care if it belongs to the Queen of Sheba," William began, fuming.
"Unlikely, as it's nowhere near her style--"
"Quiet! I'm surprised Shakespeare himself doesn't return from the grave to throttle you, but as that's scientifically impossible, I'll have to do it for him. That was a debacle--"
"You said that already," Dantalion reminded him. "Along with Disgrace, Disaster, and several other things starting with D. It doesn't matter, does it?" Dantalion tossed his pasteboard crown neatly onto a discarded prop vase in the corner. "Everyone enjoyed it."
William was growing redder by the second, and at the moment was starting to resemble an apple in a blond wig. "Only because you used some kind of demon glamor to make them think Hamlet featured a sub-plot about the infernal politics of Hell!"
Dantalion folded his arms in a way that only made his bare chest more obvious. "Except those don't exist, you say."
William went from apple to tomato with alarming speed. "I say I'm your director, I'm giving you your performance notes, and put on your dammed shirt so I'm not giving them to your nipples! " William snatched up Dantalion's shirt from the back of the dressing-room chair, and flung it at the demon so hard that the sleeves wrapped around Dantalion's head in an enthusiastic embrace.
"I don't know what you're so ruffled about," Dantalion said, shaking the shirt off his face. "It's only a little school play."
William swelled dangerously, like some kind of experimental dirigible, and then exploded in a similar fashion. "A little school play! A little school play! It's bad enough that my fortune is in shambles, but must you ruin my intellectual credit as well?" He flung his arms out, as though to indicate the whole campus, the whole of England. "This is all I've got! This school, here! This is my future, my existence, everything I've ever worked for and all I have for my future! And if you lot think you can ponce in here and ruin my entire world just because you need me to tell you how to run your affairs, then you've thought wrong!"
William waved a threatening finger under Dantalion's nose. "One more screw up from you, one more completely obvious display of your perverse notions of proper human behavior, and I swear on my copy of The Origin of Species that I will elect Baphomet as your leader. He's the only one of you I've ever met with a shred of decorum and he can actually make decent biscuits, which as far as I'm concerned makes him far more productive and useful than all the rest of you reprobates together. Then it'll be done and you can stop wasting my time!"
William did not even see Dantalion move. He felt only the explosion of air as two hands thudded into the wall on either side of his head, and suddenly he was pinned, Dantalion's arms caging him in and his face a scant inch from William's own. In the sudden hush, William could hear the sound of plaster dust crumbling down from the ceiling.
"How long has it been for you?" Dantalion whispered, his breath warm on William's face, his fangs gleaming in the shadows of his mouth. His face filled William's vision, his crimson eyes unblinking, like a beast. "How long have you spent on your school and study? Not even twenty fleeting human summers. And you complain to me of wasted time? When you have wiled away millennia in Hell, then you can speak to me of time. When you burn for thousands of years and at last find the draught that can quench you, only to learn he no longer even knows your name, then you can speak to me of patience. When the fate of a kingdom that has existed since before men knew how to make language lies in the hands of a spoiled schoolboy who's put out because his orderly little life is suddenly inconvenienced, then you can voice discontent with my methods. But only then."
His face, already close, was now so near William's that he could feel the words Dantalion spoke against his own lips. "Were it not for all my love of what you once were, I would drag you down to Hell with me this instant and I would see to it you know the pain of every single hour of my waiting. I would have you say my name until all other words have left you. I stay here out of the memory of what we were, you and I, in a time when the world was savage and dark and all men save you cowered in fear of it. But do not try my patience."
William wanted to argue, to swallow, to close his mouth, but he had forgotten how to do any of those things. Strange images surfaced in his mind and then sank, like a shell turned over in the foam, always out of reach. The memory of what we were. He meant to repeat it, in incredulous tones; he never had the chance.
Dantalion's mouth had closed on his own and for a moment there was nothing in William's universe but Dantalion's perfect, painful teeth and the hot twist of his tongue against William's own. Dantalion broke it off before William could even comprehend what had happened, still reeling against the faded wallpaper of the shabby school theatre dressing-room, his lips burning from the touch of Hellfire.
"How--" William panted, finding it strangely hard to breathe, to think. "How dare you--"
"I'll dare as much as I damn well please. I don't care about your English laws, your English Sins, your English morals." Dantalion had lost some of his illusion, and his hair was a jagged shadow over his face, his arched ears gleamed with rubies. He jerked his shirt around his shoulders like a king's mantle. "They're all as transparent as your tea. I remember you from a time when passion was a matter of death and damnation, and sin a greater thing than wearing the wrong waistcoat. That is what your little play is about, William. It's about sex and death and madness, and all the things you pretend not to remember and fear to re-learn. When you do, then you can think about schooling me in them. But not before." Dantalion snatched his coat from the chair and stalked from the room, leaving William speechless among the wooden swords and greasepaint, with the lingering smell of brimstone in the air.