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A Mostly Unexpected Gift

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Written for the go_exchange 2007 on LJ

What sort of gift might be most appreciated by an angel? [1]

There's always the angelic equivalent of new socks and handkerchiefs, but quite frankly, there's a limit to how many fiery swords any one angel would wish to have in his possession at any one time (Greed being one of the Seven Deadly Sins, of course), and as for harps, well, one heavenly harp is much the same as another, when you come right down to it. One could purchase a bottle of 1985 Romanée Conti burgundy, of course - that would always be welcomed by the particular angel at the center of this story - but it wouldn't be a terribly original gift, and one does like to be original at this time of year.

What sort of gift might be most appreciated by an angel?

That is the question, isn't it?

And we haven't even begun to consider what sort of gift to give a demon.

[1] Assuming you were amongst that relatively exclusive number who have angels in their social circle and therefore have cause to think about this kind of thing every now and again.

1:47 a.m.

Anthony is still awake, reading in bed when Raphael comes home, his hair windblown and his pale cheeks pink with cold. It's late, much later than Raphael's usual 'sensible' bedtime, but it's Christmas Eve, after all, and it's been far too long since he's had an opportunity to attend midnight mass at Westminster Abbey.

Earlier that evening, he considers asking Anthony if he might be willing to attend mass with him. They had already agreed that the children weren't quite old enough to attend such a late service yet, and it is true that somebody has to stay home with them or Heaven only knows what mischief they'll get into, but there are child minders - Sarah next door comes to mind - and Raphael can't help but think it might be nice to share the experience with Anthony, just this once. Except then Raphael remembers that Anthony is unlikely to actually enjoy the experience, even a little bit, and so he kisses Anthony and the children goodbye, then gets into the Ford Taurus [2] and drives into the city.

[2] A Ford Taurus might be a far cry from the Bentley that Anthony had once dreamed of owning, but a Taurus was far more practical now that they had the children to think about, and Anthony was quite gracious about his sacrifice, all things considered. That he somehow managed to introduce the topic of this great sacrifice into each and every subsequent conversation was not really completely unwarranted.

2:23 a.m.

Sweaty and sated [3], Anthony collapses on the bed, and after rolling over to give Raphael one last kiss, falls asleep instantly.

Raphael drifts off not long after, wondering as his eyes flutter shut where on earth Anthony learned to do that with his tongue.

[3] Anthony wonders, idly, in the wake of their extremely enthusiastic lovemaking whether he's the only one to think "O come, O come, Emmanuel" sounds like the exhortations of a particularly dominant sex partner, but long experience has taught him not to share this thought, amusing though it may be, with Raphael.

6:15 a.m.

They're trying hard to be quiet, which makes a change from most mornings, but their particular brand of silence is sufficient to rouse Raphael from his slumber. He's never needed much sleep, and although he's never said so out loud, Raphael has always been rather suspicious of excessive sleeping, considering it slightly slothful.

Anthony, unsurprisingly, loves to sleep. However, he too has sensed the soft shuffle of feet and the hushed whispers outside their door.

"Is that Them?" Anthony asks, before even opening his eyes.

Raphael can almost hear the capitalization in Anthony's use of their pet name for the children. "Of course it is, my dear. Or perhaps you thought Father Christmas and his reindeer might have taken a wrong turn somewhere?"

Anthony snorts, then rolls over onto his side and props himself up on one elbow. "I don't know how you've managed to fool everybody into thinking you're such a nice guy for so long. There's a streak of wickedness running through you, old man."

"There's the pot calling the kettle black," Raphael says, one eyebrow raised. "In any case, I've never managed to fool you, have I?"

For a moment, Anthony just looks at his partner, seeing past the soft mid-section and almost bland features to the core of strength and determination and passion within.

"No, you haven't," he says with smile, then leans over to kiss Raphael's mouth.

Raphael's eyes widen, as they always do whenever Anthony kisses him, then he glances over to the photo of the children propped up on their bedside table.

"I don't suppose they might be encouraged to be just a bit more patient?" Raphael says hopefully.

"Oh, I think they can be reasoned with," Anthony says, then calls out in the general direction of the door, "Attention, all loiterers! If we hear a single peep from anybody before eight o'clock, nobody's getting any Christmas presents. Is that understood?"

The sound of four pair of feet scampering away down the hall is all the answer he needs.

"Now," Anthony says, turning back to Raphael. "Where were we?"

8:01 a.m.

After an interlude that begins with Anthony slowly licking every inch of Raphael's soft, warm body and which ends so energetically that both of them actually slip off the bed and fall onto the floor, Anthony wishes he could sleep until noon. Raphael, however, reminds him that he was the one who said 'eight o'clock,' and so with just a little bit of grumbling (and only a single mention of his lost dream of owning a Bentley), Anthony crawls out of bed and stumbles into the shower.

Ten minutes later, feeling far more human, Anthony slips on a pair of black jeans and a tee-shirt and joins Raphael and the pyjama-clad children for breakfast.[4]

After breakfast, it's time for presents. Adam, who has been dropping hints about a dog on behalf of the others for the past month, seems satisfied with his remote-control car, and all four of the children have enough warm, woolly sweaters and books [5] and Terry's Chocolate Oranges and CD's covered with parental warning labels [6] to keep them satisfied for the rest of the day.

When Raphael opens the back door and brings in a six-week old yellow Labrador puppy, he and Anthony are covered with hugs and chocolate-flavoured kisses.

[4] On any other day, breakfast would have consisted of something a bit healthier than a packet of chocolate-covered digestive biscuits and milky coffee, but as Brian had whined argued so convincingly, it was Christmas, after all.
[5] From Raphael
[6] From Anthony

12:38 p.m.

Before noon, the house is filled with family and with the sounds of the holiday.

As is traditional, not all the sounds are happy ones.

Everybody wishes for 'peace on earth' at Christmas-time of course, but sometimes our nearest and dearest aren't exactly as bloody cooperative as they should be when it comes to making that particular hope come alive.

Even before the cheese tray is set down on the coffee table, Auntie Warmina picks a fight with Uncle Hal. It starts as sniping, moves on to acrimony, and in the end, turns into a screaming row. With Raphael and the children walking the puppy outside, Anthony allows himself a moment to sit back on the sofa and enjoy the show

In the end, Warmina and Hal storm out of the house, refusing to look at each other, with the words "Go to Hell" lingering in the air in their wake, but Raphael heads them off before they reach their car and convinces them to come back into the house.

Anthony's look of contrition when they all return doesn't fool Raphael for a second.

3:15 p.m.

They don't start dinner until after the Queen's speech [7], but as soon as Her Majesty wishes them a Happy Christmas, they all head off into the dining room and sit down to eat.

The only ones missing from this year's celebration are old Uncle Mort, may he rest in peace, and Raphael's boss [8], and as far as Anthony and Raphael can tell, all their guests seem to be enjoying themselves. Even Mr. Shadwell from down the road is wearing a paper crown, and everybody else entertains themselves by reading out the terrible jokes they find in their Christmas crackers. [9]

The usual family mishaps occur. Cousin Polly drops the cranberry sauce and the gravy on the carpet, and Polly's step-daughter, who always seems to be on one fad diet or another, eats almost nothing, almost causing a row between her and her father, Billy, but by the end of the meal, everybody seems to be at peace for once.

[7] Surprisingly, Anthony was just as much a traditionalist about listening to the Queen's speech as Raphael was, although it had to be confessed that in Anthony's family, they'd only ever listened so they could take the mickey. Raphael's family, as one might have imagined, had always been far more respectful.
[8] He had been invited to dinner and had said he'd be happy to accept, but on the day, his private secretary called to say his son had arrived rather unexpectedly and so he wouldn't be able to attend after all.
[9] Online Christmas Cracker Joke Machine courtesy of the BBC.

9:02 p.m.

After the Pulsifers leave, the children take their gifts up to their rooms, and Raphael and Anthony settle down for a moment's quiet in front of the telly. Raphael has a plate of bread and ham and cheese and pickle and crisps resting on his belly. Anthony has no idea how Raphael is able to eat another full meal after all the food they had that day, but it's not in his nature to steer anybody away from indulgence.

"We should probably start on the washing up soon," Raphael says.

"Let's leave it 'til morning," replies Anthony. "I'm knackered."

Raphael's too tired and too content to argue. He leans his head on Anthony's shoulder and starts to eat his crisps.

11:49 p.m.

The two men have only just barely turned off the lights and closed their eyes, when there's a quiet knock on their bedroom door. The door opens slowly, and Adam is there in his pyjamas.

"Are you all right, Adam?" Raphael asks. "Are you having trouble sleeping?

Adam nods, then steps a little way into the room and stands silently in the darkness.

"Come on then," Anthony says gently. He pats the blue duvet cover, and Adam climbs up onto the bed and sits cross-legged between the two men. "Bad dream?"

"Well...not really." Adam plucks at a thread on his sleeve. "Did you know that cockroaches can live for weeks after their heads have been cut off? Apparently they...."

This, Anthony thinks as Adam regales them with facts about the cockroach, is what happens when you insist on giving children educational reading material instead of sensible things like sweets and footballs.

He takes Raphael's hand in his own and lets his eyes close, drifting off a bit as Raphael interjects "Well, isn't that interesting" and "Do they really?" at regular intervals during Adam's ode to the Order Blattodea.

And then he frowns, because Adam's voice seems to be getting lower, deeper, less child-like as the minutes pass, and he can tell by the way Raphael's hand tightens around his own that he isn't the only one to notice how strange Adam's voice sounds and how much larger he suddenly seems, almost as if he's not a boy at all.

Anthony and Raphael both sit up, and when Raphael turns on the light - -

12:01 a.m.

- - instead of a nice warm bed, they're sitting on a bench in the back room of Aziraphale's bookshop. They blink, almost in unison, then took down, a bit confused, at their clasped hands.

Just as they do every year.

"Did you like your present?" Adam asks. His smile, half naughty and half nice, looks like it belongs on the face of an impish schoolboy, instead of on the face of a grown man with stubble on his chin. "Brian and Wensleydale said you might like something different this year, but Pepper reminded me that you're both traditionalists, we are."

"Er," says Aziraphale, letting go at once of Crowley's hand. "Yes, that was a very nice gift. Thank you, Adam." Aziraphale elbows Crowley in the side, and Crowley, blushing for the first time in millennia, adds his own muttered thanks.

Adam grins.

What sort of gift might be most appreciated by an angel or a demon in the years following a near-apocalypse?

It's impossible to speak for all angels and all demons, but for Aziraphale and Crowley - who, despite having spent six-thousand years on Earth, have really only just started to understand what it means to be human - the most welcome gift might be nothing more than a brief moment out of time, just one day a year, to live the silent wishes of their hearts.