Crowley was not the sort of person who went around looking pleased, but it was quite apparent to everyone he was within view of that on this particular afternoon he was exactly the opposite of pleased.

The majority of his bad mood stemmed from the fact that he had been contacted by his superiors that morning and was assigned to report to Hell for his centennial evaluation the following day, and that he might not be back for six weeks.

Another significant portion of it was due to the fact that he had no idea how he was going to tell Aziraphale.

A smaller but nonetheless very prominent part of it had to do with shopping. Crowley had his hands stuffed in his pockets and was trailing along behind Aziraphale at enough of a distance to let the angel know that he was cross at having been forced1 to accompany him, but Aziraphale seemed happily oblivious to both the outer signs of his companion's ill temper and the aura of extreme displeasure rolling off of the demon in waves and making sure that no one in the general vicinity was having a good day.

"Tell me again why we're here," Crowley snarled, falling into step next to Aziraphale, who was humming some inane Christmas tune.

"Christmas shopping, my dear," the angel replied brightly.

"Angel, it's bloody November," Crowley pointed out, after he had finished dragging a hand down his face in exasperation and jammed it back into his pocket. "Not even late November."

"Well, it never hurts to get an early start," Aziraphale said, and ducked into a book store. Crowley rolled his eyes, readjusted his sunglasses, and followed, mumbling under his breath about how he wished he'd never invented shopping malls.

Some time later, Crowley decided that he had had quite enough and told Aziraphale that he was going home, whether or not the angel was coming with him. Being that Crowley was the one with the car, Aziraphale reluctantly acquiesced and followed the disgruntled demon, arms laden with shopping bags that Crowley pointedly didn't offer to help carry. When they stopped in front of one of the lifts, Crowley jammed the "down" button harder than strictly necessary and crossed his arms impatiently. Aziraphale let one of the bags slip a little, just to see…but no, the demon continued to stare blankly ahead at the gleaming chrome door. Aziraphale decided that whatever was obviously wrong went beyond the tedium of Christmas shopping.

"Crowley?" the angel hesitantly began, once they were safely inside the lift and headed toward the bottom floor. "Is something the matter?" The demon not only didn't respond, but turned his head away from Aziraphale. The angel pursed his lips in aggravation, wished the bags to a neat stack in the corner, and waved a hand at the panel of buttons. The lift ground to a halt.

"Bloody– what was that for?!" Crowley snapped, but Aziraphale silenced him by gripping his shoulders and staring into his eyes through the dark lenses that suddenly seemed terribly inadequate.

When the demon quailed slightly under the unexpected shock of full-on Angel Glare, Aziraphale's expression softened and his fingers loosened their claw-like hold on Crowley's shoulders. "Please," he said softly, letting one hand drift up to the side of Crowley's face. "Tell me what's wrong."

Crowley swallowed nervously, shoulders and jaw stiff under the angel's touch. He reached up to take his sunglasses off, just to have something to do with his hands, but as soon as he did he realized that it was much easier to look at Aziraphale this way when he had them on. He gulped again when the angel took the glasses out of Crowley's hand and placed them, folded, in the front pocket of Crowley's blazer.

"I've been called back," Crowley said suddenly, and ploughed on, unwilling to stop now that he'd found the courage to get going. "Centennial evaluations. I have to go Down Below and I might not be back for Christmas. I didn't want to tell you because I was…I thought you might be upset."

And he did look upset, bless it all. Aziraphale looked hurt and confused and taken aback, all the things one might expect of a kicked puppy in the form of a slightly plump, middle-aged blonde man. But he smiled, not a half-hearted smile but a real, honest smile, and stroked Crowley's cheekbone with his thumb. "Thank you for telling me, Crowley."

"You're welcome," the demon murmured, because he had something else he'd rather say but couldn't, and leaned into Aziraphale's hand a little. Tentatively, he raised his own hands and rested them on the angel's chest. He still wasn't used to this; they'd known each other for so long, been friends for so long, and now…they were still friends, really. They could never be anything other than friends. They'd been through the end of the world together, for Somebody's sake.

"It isn't your fault," Aziraphale said softly, bringing Crowley back to the present.

"I know," Crowley replied. He rested his forehead against the angel's and sighed.

"I'll miss you." Crowley could feel the words on his lips, they were so close.

"Miss you too," the demon replied, and leaned in the rest of the way.

The lift started moving again shortly, and Crowley helped Aziraphale carry the shopping bags out to the Bentley.

"I have an idea," the angel said cheerfully on the way back to the bookshop. "This year, we can celebrate on His real birthday."

Crowley grimaced, but Aziraphale smiled, because he knew that it meant "okay".


1Admittedly it had been more of a gentle persuasion, but Crowley was in no way willing to accept this.