Summary: Adam learns why the thirteenth century wasn't quite as boring as the fourteenth.
Scowling, Adam slammed his history book shut and spoke to the empty room. "It's so borin'! How did you stand livin' through it all?"
"I AM SORRY. WERE YOU SPEAKING TO ME?" came a heavy voice from nowhere, like the slam of a leaded coffin.
"I guess," replied Adam, running a hand through his hair. "Since you're here and everythin'…" He gave the space behind him a hard look.
A seven-foot skeleton wearing a black robe solidified where the boy was glaring and gestured to the window where a fly had just stopped beating its wings against the glass. Adam nodded, mollified.
"I CANNOT HONESTLY SAY THAT I HAVE LIVED THROUGH ANYTHING."
The boy sighed. "I don't mean lived lived. I mean lived. It's all so awful. Just endless wars and plagues and famines," there was a ripple on the edge of his subconscious that he ignored, "and a few rich guys doin' whatever they liked. Fightin' for power. For thousands and thousands of years. Where were the people tryin' to make life better? Or even just live ordinary lives? It can't all just be, 'In 1215, the Magna Carta was written, requirin' the king to renounce certain rights, respect certain legal procedures, and accept that the will of the king could be bound by law.' I mean, what else happened in 1215 besides stupid ol' King John?"
The faint blue lights in Death's eye sockets blinked out for a moment as he considered this. "MANY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE DIED."
"I figured that much," retorted Adam, half amused and half exasperated.
"I DO NOT KNOW THAT I CAN TELL YOU WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW. I WAS OTHERWISE OCCUPIED. WHY DO YOU NOT LOOK FOR YOURSELF?"
The boy shrugged. "There's too much to filter through. I mean, everythin' ever. It's a lot if I don't have somethin' to focus on. Like a way to narrow the search, I guess."
"YOU KNOW TWO PEOPLE WHO WERE THERE."
Adam's face lit up. "That's right! I do. I could look for them… Hey, wanna stay and watch?"
There was a pause. "THAT MIGHT PROVE TO BE INTERESTING."
Ten minutes later, they were ready. Adam had rigged a sheet up on the wall to serve as a screen and he'd made popcorn for them both. Death peered at his bowl and poked one of the kernels with a bony finger.
"AND YOU CAN EAT THIS NOW THAT IT HAS EXPLODED, BUT YOU COULD NOT BEFORE."
"That's right, and it's traditional for watchin' movies. Now hush so I can concentrate."
Duly chastised, Death stared into his bowl, comparing a fluffy, white piece with a golden unpopped kernel while Adam sat cross-legged on his bed and shut his eyes. He liked to visualize things in terms that he understood, so he called to mind an image of Aziraphale at that exact moment – drinking tea alone in his shop – and then pushed a mental 'rewind' button. Slowly, the angel started moving backwards through his day, helping people, reading, then the 'tape' started moving faster and faster, the days blurring into one another, then into months, years, centuries. As the numbers on his internal counter wound back – 1500, 1400, 1300 – Adam let the images slow again, careful not to miss the year he was aiming for. 1230… 1225… 1220… 1215… December… November… October… September… August… Seeing another familiar shape, he stopped. Now focused temporally, the young antichrist projected his understanding onto the sheet and pressed 'play'.
Aziraphale carefully lifted his pen off the page before responding to the greeting.
"Hello, dear boy, it's been a while…" he turned and his voice trailed off. "A milites Christi, Crowley? Honestly."
The demon grinned. "No worse than you being a Benedictine. Anything to get your hands on a book, right? But that haircut is atrocious."
"Forget my haircut, it's much worse than me being a Benedictine. At least they're on my side. Why are you fighting for the enemy?" The angel smiled tentatively. "Does this mean… My dear…?"
Scowling, Crowley said, "No, and you can wipe that soppy smile off your face. I'm not switching sides. It just gets me into the court. Besides, I'd be surprised if you could tell whose side is whose out there. As much as this lot wants to believe it, I don't think Hell is behind the Muslims. Still, Pope 'Innocent' is sending us out again. Why does everyone want that bloody city?"
"Oh, dear. What is this, the fourth time?"
They both stared at each other blankly for a moment.
"Would you like a drink?"
"I thought you'd never ask," Crowley sighed.
As Aziraphale left to fetch the half measure of wine he was allowed each day, Crowley looked at the book he'd been copying. He recognized it with a snort of laughter. "The Book of the Civilized Man, Aziraphale? Have you gotten to the part about prostitutes yet? 'If you are overcome with erotic desire when you are young and your penis drives you to go to a prostitute, do not go to a common whore; empty your testicles quickly and depart quickly.' Sensible advice, that."
The angel glared at him. "I'm copying the book. You may make fun of it all you like, but people need to know how to behave."
"Right. In verse no less. Because common sense doesn't tell you that you shouldn't urinate in your host's hallway, play with your food, or look for fleas in your breeches in the presence of lords and ladies, and if you clean out your nose in your hand, not to show people what comes out."
Adam laughed. This book sounded like what parents tell kids about manners, only it was for adults. The world must have really been different if people didn't know this stuff already. What would eating dinner have been like? Probably pretty disgusting, he decided.
"YOU WOULD BE SURPRISED AT HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE DIED BECAUSE OF THE CONTENTS OF THEIR NOSES," Death intoned solemnly, which only made Adam laugh harder.
"It also reminds people to say thank you, offer guests refreshment, receive gifts with gratitude, and be just if one is a judge." Aziraphale said haughtily, setting down the bottle and two cups with a satisfying plunk on the simple wooden table.
Crowley raised an eyebrow and began reading the sentence where Aziraphale had left off. "'The lascivious woman is always ready to fornicate with a cook or a half-wit, a peasant or a ploughman, or a chaplain; what she longs for is a thick, leaping, robust piece of equipment, long, smooth and stiff...' That's some reminder." He laughed again. "Sounds like Daniel wasn't as much of an old prude as I thought."
Aziraphale colored. "I can't just copy the parts I like."
"I thought that's what you were doing," retorted Crowley, as he sank into the chair across from Aziraphale. When the wine wasn't forthcoming, he added, "Hey, what happened to offering your guests refreshment?"
The angel sighed and poured the wine.
"… and the barons made him sign the damn thing 'cause it makes them more powerful than him. But ol' Popey said it wasn't valid 'cause the church is supposed to be the only ssuperior power to the king or something. There's prob'ly going to be civil war before too long. I hear the barons might even bring in the French and make it a war of sssucc… sssuccesss… of who gets to rule the country, since everyone hates John."
Aziraphale giggled. "Popey?" Then he seemed to remember himself and frowned. "When are they going to learn, Crowley? How do they not know yet that it doesn't matter who the ruler is, just as long as there is one?"
"I knew it!" Adam exclaimed.
The demon shrugged. "Matters to the rulers. 's hot in here…" He pulled off his cloak and laid it on the back of his chair. "I just think it'ss funny that they all think they rule by divine providence. I don't ssuppose you know who…"
"No one tells me anything," sniffed the angel.
Crowley peered blearily around the stark little room. "Cozy," he decided. "What do you do here all day, anyway?"
"Pray mostly. And sing…"
The demon sniggered. Aziraphale spoke more loudly, "And sing for hours. Then we work on our manuscripts or take a turn in the bakery."
"However do you decide?" asked Crowley. "Wait, wait. Lemme guess. You never get bakery duty, but sssomehow end up with a loaf every night."
"Only half…" came the muttered reply.
Aziraphale was disconcerted to learn that it was indeed possible to cry with laughter.
When the early bell rang before dawn, Crowley opened one bleary eye.
"Whassat?" he groaned.
"Wake up call," came the pained response.
Sticking his head under the hard pillow, the demon pulled Aziraphale closer and tried to go back to sleep, but the angel's eyes had gone wide in realization.
"Crowley, oh goodness! Crowley wake up."
"What d'you want?"
"Your arm. It's… please…"
The demon came out from under the pillow and blinked. Slowly he removed his arm from Aziraphale's bare waist. "Well. This is awkward..."
"Where's my robe?" asked the angel, a note of panic entering his voice. "I'm supposed to wear it at all times."
"Yeah, well, you're supposed to uphold that vow of chastity, too," drawled Crowley, amused.
Aziraphale sent him a death glare as he found his robe on the floor and pulled it on. The demon's tunic was nearby and he threw it at him. "Get dressed. You have to leave."
"Didn't think you were the love him and leave him type, angel. Although I don't feel loved. Do you? Anything hurt?"
"I, what? I have a terrible headache…"
Crowley shook his head, then seemed to regret that motion, and sat up gingerly. "Me too, but that wasn't quite what I meant." He pulled his clothes on quickly.
Aziraphale hardly seemed to be paying attention, as frantic as he was. "The abbot's coming. Out, Crowley, out!"
The demon sighed, blinked a couple of times, and crawled into the window ledge. "See you later, Aziraphale."
"Fine," he snapped. And Crowley was gone. The angel sank onto his disheveled bed, put his head in his hands, and murmured, "Dear Lord, what have I done?"
"… What was all that about?" asked Adam finally. "They sure were actin' weird."
"I BELIEVE THEY THOUGHT THEY HAD ENGAGED IN SEXUAL INTERCOURSE." The statement was followed by a brief crunching sound.
"But they didn't!" he protested. "We watched the whole thing. They just got drunk and talked a lot. What'd they go and think that for? If I woke up one mornin' and Pep was in my bed, but I couldn't remember why, the first thing I'd think was that we got tired and fell asleep."
Death turned his blank eye sockets to the young man. "WHEN PEOPLE HAVE BEEN THINKING ABOUT DEATH, THEY ARE NOT SURPRISED WHEN I APPEAR."
Adam considered that for a moment. "So, you're sayin' that they assumed that's what happened 'cause that's what they'd been thinkin' about anyway? I guess that makes sense…"
Death lifted one shoulder.
"I wonder what happened next." His eyes swiveled back to the screen as the images ran by faster and faster.
Some months later, which Aziraphale had apparently dedicated to doing good works and Crowley to sleeping with as many people as possible, the two met by accident in the street. After embarrassed apologies and awkward expressions, Crowley finally invited Aziraphale to his home a few blocks away.
"This is… nice," said the angel in a strained tone, standing very straight and trying not to accidentally touch anything.
"Relax, would you?" Crowley growled. "You're making me nervous."
Aziraphale's eyes slid over to him and then quickly away. The demon was lounging across a wooden chair made more comfortable with cushions, his long legs dangling casually over the side. Casting about for a safe topic of conversation, the angel said, "I hear there's a contingent of French knights on its way to protect London."
Crowley snorted. "From what, exactly? The massive forces of King John? He'll be dead within the year and then the French will be the threat instead of the salvation."
"Probably," murmured Aziraphale. "I just hope they'll keep the fighting amongst themselves and not drag the innocent into it."
"No one's innocent," Crowley replied and Aziraphale blushed. The demon raised an eyebrow. "Can I get you some wine, perhaps?"
"NO!" exclaimed Aziraphale. "Er, I mean, no, thank you. I… just had lunch."
"Daniel says to offer drink even if your guests have already supped."
"I'm fine," ground out the angel. "Thank you."
Crowley shrugged. "Then at least sit down, would you? I'm craning my neck here."
Aziraphale sat cautiously on the very edge of the least comfortable chair in the room and the one farthest from Crowley, who rolled his eyes. "I'm not going to jump you, you know."
"Oh, and somehow I garner more courtesy than the entirety of London, I see. Well, keep your 'hospitality' to yourself, demon," retorted Aziraphale bitterly.
"Is that what this is about? Jealous of a few liaisons?"
"A few! There are twenty-five thousand people in this city, Crowley. Are there any you haven't slept with?"
Crowley looked like he wasn't sure whether to smile or frown. "That's a bit of an exaggeration, isn't it? Maybe half…"
The angel made a disgusted noise in the back of this throat.
"Honestly, it's only been most of the court and a few of the guilds."
"Oh, yes, I heard about what you did to those poor carpenters. Did you really need to include all the journeymen as well? There were quite a number of desperate confessions the next day."
"And a lot of master pieces turned in, too." The demon sat up straight in his chair and put his hands on his knees, leaning forward. "Look, Aziraphale. You had your chance and you didn't want me. End of story. You get no more say in my behaviour."
Aziraphale looked hurt. "I never said…" He broke off and stared at the floor. "No. This is wrong. I have to go." Standing, he started walking toward the door, intending to leave, but there was suddenly a demon in his path.
"You never said what?" he asked, yellow eyes flashing. "Never said you didn't want me?"
The angel looked away.
"You do," Crowley breathed.
"You already did."
"I shouldn't have."
"Can't, couldn't, shouldn't, wouldn't, won't - why don't you deal with what is, angel?"
In response, Crowley kissed him tenderly, passionately, as if he'd been waiting a long time to do so. Aziraphale gasped into his mouth and kissed tentatively back, uncertain but eager.
"What is," repeated Crowley in a whisper.
Death and Adam looked at each other and grinned. Well, Death couldn't help it, but the blue lights in his eyes looked slightly more twinkly.
Looking dazed, Aziraphale began, "Crowley… I…"
"If that sentence is going to have a negative contraction in it, I don't want to hear it."
The angel appeared thoughtful for a moment. "Do you think this is a good idea?" he finally said.
"Do you think it's a good idea."
"No," came the prompt response. "But I suspect I'm going to do it anyway."
Grinning predatorily, Crowley moved in.
"Well," said Adam after a long moment of silence, "I guess people were just people in the twelve hundreds like any other time. But I sure didn't expect that."
"That Aziraphale would choose to go with Crowley like that."
"WHAT MAKES YOU THINK THAT WAS A CHOICE?"
The boy stared. "You don't believe that whole thing 'bout angels and demons not havin' free will, do you? 'Cause you know they do, even if they don't always know that they do." He put his head to one side, reviewing that last statement to see if it made any sense.
Death gazed back serenely. "I AM NOT ARGUING THAT POINT. THESE TWO CERTAINLY HAVE FREE WILL AND HAVE EXERCISED IT. HOWEVER, I DO NOT THINK IT WAS USED IN THIS CASE."
"You think God…?"
"NO." He sighed heavily like a gust of wind blowing out a lone lamp in a graveyard at midnight. "I DO NOT SUSPECT DIRECT INTERFERENCE."
"Then I'm not followin' you. Aziraphale just decided to put Crowley before Heaven and everythin'. But he never got in trouble for it." He gestured to the screen where a half-dressed angel and demon were still talking.
"A hair shirt? You weren't wearing this before…"
"No. I didn't need to be distracted before. It doesn't work very well, I'm afraid."
"HE PUT LOVE BEFORE EVERYTHING JUST AS HE ALWAYS HAS."
"John's first letter," murmured Adam, who had been to many years of Sunday school and even listened sometimes. "God is love, so love is God. But I still don't understand. He didn't hafta put love before duty."
"HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THE PEOPLE WHO YOU WILL LOVE AND WHO YOU WILL NOT LOVE?"
"Don't be silly. It don't work that way. You can't help who you love. You just do. Even if you don't wanna."
Adam stared at the screen a moment, eyes unfocussed, until he noticed what was going on, blushed, and looked away again. The wings had been an interesting touch.
"Well, I think we're both kinda right. I mean, he coulda fought it. He coulda decided to run away or somethin' and never give in. But it woulda made them both real unhappy and for no reason. And maybe he had no choice in who he loved or how much. Maybe some things are greater than free will." He glanced again at the couple. "Do you think Crowley knew?"
"DOES IT MATTER?"
"I guess not…"
Death stood. Adam half expected to see a pile of popcorn crumbs fall out the bottom of his robe but there was nothing. He was relieved. He hated to vacuum.
"I HAVE HAD AN ENJOYABLE TIME, ADAM YOUNG. THANK YOU FOR YOUR HOSPITALITY. THE POPCORN WAS MOST PLEASANT."
Adam nodded. "We could do it again sometime, if you like. I've got a report due on Jane Austen for my literature class next week..."
"THEN I SHALL BE HERE. GOODBYE FOR NOW." Death faded away and Adam was once again left alone. Or mostly.
"Shh, angel. I'm right here."
Smiling, the boy opened his book again and began to read.
'There are a number of popular misconceptions about Magna Carta…'