It was Christmas Eve at last, a beautiful starry night like that first one over Bethlehem. Or so Aziraphale had heard. Unlike all the other angels, he hadn't actually been there; he'd been on a hillside in Lebanon, watching over the flock of a friend whose wife was having a baby.
Currently he was in Crowley's Bentley, crawling through the streets of Tadfield looking for Hogback Lane.
"Are you sure it's down this way?" he asked Crowley. "I mean, we've never been to the actual house."
"We'd know for sure if you'd let me bring my phone," the demon grumbled.
"We're going to a party! I don't want you sitting in the corner playing games while everyone else is having a good time!"
"I don't play games on it!"
"Well, what do you do when you're fiddling with it?"
Crowley sighed through clenched teeth. "Different things. Now can you shut up? I'm trying to concentrate."
"We're lost, aren't we?"
"We are not lost! We're . . . close."
At that precise moment, they happened upon Mr. R. P. Tyler, who was out walking his dog. "Go on," said Aziraphale. "Ask him."
"What? I can't-"
Aziraphale reached over and rolled the window down. "Excuse me!" he called out.
Mr. Tyler stopped and narrowed his eyes at the car that was very slowly rolling along the road beside him. He did not recognize the Bentley, most likely because the last time he had seen it, it had been on fire.
"Are you lost?" he asked.
"Yes!" said Aziraphale.
"No!" insisted Crowley. "We're looking for Hogback Lane. How close are we?"
"Oh, you're nearly on it," said Mr. Tyler. "Just go past the meadow and turn right at the corner."
"Thank you very much," said Aziraphale, and put the window up again.
As they drove away, Mr. Tyler had a very peculiar feeling that he'd seen them before. At least, he'd seen the car before. But it had looked . . . different.
Ah, well. "Come on, Shutzi," he said, and led his dog back down the lane.
It was a very ordinary-looking house. You wouldn't have believed that the Antichrist lived there, if you hadn't known. Crowley drove past and parked in the first available spot further along the street. There were dozens of cars parked on both sides for quite a ways down.
"We're late," Aziraphale worried.
"Fashionably late. No one will mind. Get the presents from the back, will you, angel?"
Reluctantly, Aziraphale dragged out the red velvet sack which held the combined presents. "Oh, this is heavy! What in the world did you buy them? I'm assuming it's for the children."
"Not all of it! There's something for Anathema and Newt. By the way, don't mention this to anyone, but I hear there's going to be a special announcement tonight."
"You don't think-" Aziraphale stopped in the middle of the street and stared at his friend.
"All I know is, her parents flew in from America last night. What does that suggest to you?"
"Well, it's Christmas. People like to have family around at Christmas."
"I'm telling you, he's gonna do it. He's going to ask her. You wait and see if he doesn't. Can you get that, or do you need a hand?"
"I've got it," he said, though he wasn't entirely sure. The bag really was terribly heavy.
"Maybe we should have split it into two bags."
"No, it's fine!" Aziraphale said a little too sharply.
Crowley turned back and said, "You can't carry it, can you?"
"I can! It's just . . . it's like Gabriel said. I've gone soft."
"Don't listen to Gabriel. He's a bloody idiot. Let me get that." Crowley reached over and lifted up one side of the bag, and between them they carried it up to the Youngs' front door. When Crowley put down the bag to ring the bell, the door was flung open by an older woman with too much makeup.
"Merry Chri-who the hell are you?"
"Mum!" Mrs. Young appeared behind her. "They're . . . um . . . friends. Mr. Crowley, Mr. Fell, do come in. Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas, dear!" Crowley kissed her on both cheeks. "Bring the gifts, angel."
"I thought you were going to help!"
"It's not far now! Just get them through the door and we'll put them under the tree."
"Fine," he sighed. "Lovely to see you again, Deirdre. Merry Christmas!"
It really was a lovely party. They drank Arthur Young's "special" peppermint cocoa, with just a hint of alcohol. (The kids got the alcohol-free version.) Aziraphale spent most of the evening sitting next to Deirdre's mother, whose name was Flora.
"So what is it," she asked, "you actually do, Mr. Fell?"
"Ezra," he said. "Please."
"All right, Ezra."
"I own a rare book shop in Soho. Been in the family ages."
"And what sort of books do you sell?"
"Usually first editions or limited-run copies. Hard to find editions, that sort of thing. Though I have branched out lately into a bit more popular stuff. Brings the customers in, you see."
"That sounds nice. And your, um . . . partner?"
"Crowley? Oh, he helps out in the shop sometimes, but he comes from money, so mostly he does his own thing."
"Really? And how did you two meet?"
"Oh, at school," he said.
"I'll bet you did very well there," she said. "Top of your class, am I right?"
"Not always," he admitted. "I wasn't very good at getting along with the other students. Crowley was pretty much my only friend."
"Oh, how sad." She slid over a few inches so that her right leg was pressed directly into his left. "Well, you've got me. I'm your friend."
"Yes, of course, um-"
"Excuse me!" Newt's voice rose over the Christmas music and the hum of conversation, "Can I have your attention, please?"
"Oh, thank goodness," Aziraphale muttered. "Will you excuse me for a moment, Flora? I think I need another drink."
"Of course, dear." She shifted her feet to the side so that he could get up. He went over to the bar even though he had no intention of getting himself another drink. Crowley was there.
"Here it comes," he said.
"Here what comes?"
"The big announcement. I hope he's already asked her. It could get awkward if he asks her right here in front of-"
"Yes, all right!" Aziraphale whispered fiercely. "Don't spoil it for the poor boy!"
Now that all eyes were on him, Newt seemed to flounder a bit. "Um, I'm not very good at this. I've never actually done it before-"
"Deep breath," said his mum. "Focus on what you want to say, and . . . just say it."
"All right." He took a deep breath, held it for a second, and then let it out in a contented sigh. "Earlier this evening, Anathema and I had a Serious Talk."
"That's asking for trouble, the Serious Talk," said Brian.
Pepper glared at him. "Shut up, Brian!"
"What? When my dad has a Serious Talk with me, it never goes well."
Brian rolled his eyes and shushed begrudgingly.
"And even though we haven't known each other long," Newt continued as if the interruption hadn't happened, "we decided that we were soulmates, destined to spend the rest of our lives together. Because we want to, not because anyone predicted that we would. So I asked her," he said, pausing dramatically, "to marry me."
"And I said yes!" Anathema gushed.
Crowley looked at Aziraphale and smirked. "Told you."
"Yes, you did. Fine. You were right. Oh, yes, that's wonderful, dear," he said to the happy couple. "Let's see the ring!"
"It's not much," Newt admitted. "I still haven't found a job yet-"
Anathema held up her left hand. Encircling the third finger was a silver band with what looked like intricate engravings. "They're runes," she explained. "In ancient Sanskrit, it means 'Eternity.'"
"No, it doesn't," said Crowley. "That one line's out of place. It actually means-"
Aziraphale clapped a hand over the demon's mouth. "It's beautiful, dear. Congratulations to you both."
Someone was going around passing out glasses of champagne. Crowley took one, and Aziraphale gave him a look and snatched it from his hand, placing it back on the tray without spilling a drop.
"I think," he said, "that we've both had enough. It's a long drive home. Could we perhaps have a coffee instead?" he asked.
Thus, when the entire party toasted the engagement, the two celestial beings were the only adults in the room drinking something non-alcoholic.
Eventually the party broke up, as parties do, when it gets late and people remember all the things they have to do in the morning.
Crowley and Aziraphale sobered themselves up as soon as they were out of sight. It was a long walk back to the Bentley, and it felt even longer in the dark and cold.
They set off, Christmas music playing on the stereo, and it wasn't for quite some time that the angel noticed that they were not going back the way they had come. This wasn't the way to London at all.
"Um, Crowley?" Aziraphale said, looking out the window. "Where exactly are we going?"
"It's a surprise." The demon smirked and turned off onto a side road.
"I really do want to be getting home, I've got-"
"You'll like this."
And that was all that Crowley would say for about twenty miles. Aziraphale sat rigidly in his seat and winced at every bump in the road, which became rougher and rougher as they went on. Before long, it was a simple dirt lane.
"Exactly how far out of London are we going?" he inquired.
"Nearly there now."
A short while later, they turned off the road and came to a stop in front of a rambling white farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere. "Here we are, then," said Crowley. He waved his hand, and a light came on at the front of the house to guide them to the door.
"This, my dear angel, is where we're spending Christmas. You and me. All alone, far from the city, no worries, nothing to do but sit and relax. No one will ever find us here."
"Won't the people who own this place be upset when they come home and find us here?"
Crowley produced a key from his pocket and unlocked the door. "I don't think so," he said, "seeing as I bought it myself yesterday."
"You . . ." Aziraphale gaped at him. "You bought it? Why?"
The demon flicked on the lights. The front door opened on a spacious living room with a huge fireplace at one end and a television almost as big at the other. "Someday," he said, "we'll want to move out of London. Get away from it all and go live in the country. There's a chicken coop out back-no chickens yet; I figured we'd save that for when we move in full-time. Then we can have fresh eggs every morning."
"That would be nice."
"Come upstairs. There's something I have to show you."
At the top of the stairs was a window and a comfortable seat beneath it, and perched on this seat was a large black stuffed dragon.
"I call him Norbert," said Crowley, giving the dragon's muzzle a pat. "After the dragon in the Harry Potter books. That's not what I want to show you, though. This way."
The first door led to a plain bedroom done up in shades of yellow and tan. "Yours, if you like."
"You know I don't really sleep."
"You don't have to. Use it as a place to park your stuff. Not that door, that one's mine. That one. Wait: close your eyes."
The angel did so and let Crowley lead him into the room. "Can I open them yet?"
"Yeah, go ahead."
The room was full of books. Wall to wall, floor to ceiling, books everywhere. There was a desk in one corner with a computer on it, one of those newfangled laptop models.
"I'll show you how to use it, if you like."
"Crowley, this . . . this is wonderful. Thank you. Thank you so much."
Crowley smiled wistfully. "Go get changed, and I'll go build a fire downstairs. We'll sit and open our presents."
The demon made a big show of looking at his watch. "It's close enough. No one will care."
"But-I don't have a change of clothes!"
"Already taken care of. It's in your room, in the bag on the dresser. I'll meet you in front of the fireplace."
"You-you brought my things here?"
"Just a few of them. This place is ours to use whenever we want, so you can figure out what you want to keep here. I'd keep some clothes in the closet and your toiletries in your bathroom-each bedroom has its own en suite, by the way. Thought you'd appreciate that."
"I suppose. Though I don't . . . you know . . . go."
"You just see what's in there," the demon said with a grin.
Aziraphale went to the room that had been marked as his and found it just as Crowley had said. The bag on the dresser held his favorite pajamas, a change of clothes for tomorrow, as well as a few necessities. And, of course, his current book. He was reading Dickens now, in the spirit of the season, and his original copy of Great Expectationslay in the bottom of the bag, bookmark neatly in place where he had left it.
Truly, Crowley had thought of everything.
He changed into his nightclothes, topped with a thick cream-colored robe, and padded downstairs in tartan slippers to find Crowley, dressed similarly (but in black), sitting before a roaring fire. There was a pile of wrapped presents between the two chairs, and as Aziraphale drew closer, he saw that the top one had his name on it.
It was a flat rectangular package almost a foot across. There was only one thing it could be, he thought as he ripped it open.
He couldn't have been more wrong.
"Kindle?" he said, recognizing the Amazon logo.
"I know what you've always said, but think of it this way: this is, potentially, an entire library in one device. It holds thirty-two gigabytes of books, which is actually a lot. Plus-and this is the clever bit-it also has email, so you can manage your new online secondhand book business."
"What online business?"
"The one I just set up for you. There's a file in there labeled 'Sales;' all the information you need is there. Give you a break from the shop once in a while."
Aziraphale started to protest that he liked running the shop, and realized that he didn't, not so much. There was the occasional customer, like Anita, who made it worthwhile, but on the whole he'd be just as happy sitting and reading all day with no one to bother him.
"Plus, 'real' books aren't going away. This isn't meant to replace your collection. You're . . . branching out a bit. There's a gift card in there too, so you can browse through the online store and buy what you like."
"You'll have to show me how to use it." Aziraphale wasn't completely ignorant of technology; he just avoided it whenever possible. Lately, it was getting harder and harder to ignore. He may as well start somewhere.
"I will. My turn?"
The angel nodded. Crowley picked up a rather large rectangular package wrapped in red and gold. He tore the wrapping off and found . . .
"They're fleece," Aziraphale pointed out. "I saw them when I was looking for something else, and thought they would be perfect for you. They're supposed to be wonderfully warm and cozy. There weren't any in black; I'm afraid gray's the best I could do."
"No, no, that's fine." He unzipped the package and felt the material. "Ooh. I like this."
"Now, that's not an excuse to sleep all day! I want you to be comfortable, not lazy."
"I promise I'll leave the bed occasionally. Your turn. The little one there is yours."
"Oh. Yes." He noticed that the other two presents were both Crowley's. "I thought we were each doing three."
"But I've only got two."
"Open that, and I'll explain."
He opened it. It was a very small box, and he couldn't think what could possibly fit in something so tiny. Jewelry? No, he didn't wear jewelry, apart from a watch he'd bought in 1922 and kept running (by way of miracles) ever since. The box was plain white, without a store name on it. He opened it and found a single key.
Crowley beamed. "Now you have one, and I have one. Do you get it now?"
It came to him then. "It's to the house, isn't it? The house is the third gift."
Crowley's other gifts were a pair of black flannel pajamas and a paperback thriller. It was a bit of an anticlimax after the big revelation. No one had ever given Aziraphale a house before.
"This is our place," said Crowley. "Yours and mine. And anyone else we choose to invite. But for now, I think we'll keep it our little secret."
He stood, stretched, and then gathered up his small pile of presents. "I'm going to bed. You coming?"
"I don't think I'm ready for that yet."
"I didn't mean-"
"It's all right. I'll just sit here for a while longer and read my book. Till the fire goes out, anyway. Good night."
"Night." Crowley went up the stairs, and there was the sound of a door slamming. Aziraphale settled back in his chair and opened Great Expectations to where he had left off. He was so absorbed in his reading that it was almost dawn before he noticed it was snowing.
"Crowley? Crowley, wake up!"
"Nnnnnhhhhh?" The demon rolled over and stared up at Aziraphale. "What?"
"You have to come see this!"
"Wha' time'zit?" He grabbed his watch off the bedside table and glanced at it. "Early."
"Come on!" Aziraphale all but dragged him out of bed and to the window. "Look! Look out there!"
Aziraphale sighed and rolled up the window blind. Crowley narrowed his eyes and peered out at . . . nothing.
"What? There's nothing there. It's all . . . white . . ."
"Exactly! It snowed! It's still snowing, a bit."
"What are you, five years old? You want to go play in it?"
"No, I just think it's lovely. Don't you think so? Snow on Christmas! So much prettier out here than in the city. Thank you."
"Oh, well . . . I thought you did this."
"Made it snow? Do I look like a weather wizard?"
"Never mind. Yes, it's nice. What do we do now?"
"Well . . . I thought I'd make breakfast. You don't mind eggs, do you?"
The angel beamed. "We have half a jar of that fancy stuff you like. And then we'll watch Christmas movies all day long! And you made this all possible."
"I was just looking for a place to hide out. Hastur will be looking for us."
"I don't think he'll bother us, now that he knows we can make holy water bombs on demand. It really is a horrible way to go."
"Tell me something, angel. That thermos full of holy water you gave me . . . did you make that?"
"Oh, goodness, no!" Aziraphale ducked his head a bit. "To be honest, I wasn't sure I could. No, I appropriated that from Headquarters."
"You stole holy water from Heaven?"
"Well, no, it's there for everyone to use-"
"But if you'd told them who it was for, they wouldn't have let you have it, would they?"
"That's why I didn't tell anyone."
Crowley smiled. "And that's," he said, "why I like you. Merry Christmas, angel."
"Merry Christmas, Crowley."
 A very non-Messianic baby.
 The children, of course, had sparkling apple juice.
 Which all sounded like Queen.
 A Christmas Carol was so overdone.