At first, it was Crowley who didn’t want to go out because of the cold. Let’s just stay in, angel, he’d said, in more of a murmur than a hiss, but with just enough breathiness that Aziraphale could have called it a hiss if he was being generous and didn’t want to offend Crowley’s demonic sensibilities. He had already wrapped both of them in a fluffy blanket, which was undemonic enough. Crowley’d said, Why do we have to go out on Christmas Eve?
And then Aziraphale had admitted that, actually, he’d been sent a task from work. Something mysterious was going on and he was being sent to check up on it. He didn’t receive very many messages from Above these days; they mostly treaded lightly around him, after the almost-Apocalypse, the way you would around a mysterious looking mushroom. He didn’t know if he was more pleased or disappointed they’d remembered he existed. Crowley had scowled and whined, but, finally, had accepted that they’d better get to it, then.
Then it was Aziraphale’s turn to remind him of the cold and insist that he keep his cold-blooded self indoors. There was no need for him to freeze his scales off. Honestly, Crowley. No matter how many Sherlock Holmes stories you’ve read, that doesn’t mean you’re more of a sleuth than someone such as myself who has read every Poirot story several times over.
Angel, you’re more of a Miss Marple and you know it.
Now Crowley was dismissing the cold like it was nothing. Besides, he’d said with a grin, the Bentley has heating.
That had reminded Aziraphale that the investigation Above was sending him on was in a town outside of London, and technically, they did need transport.
And so, the decades-old vehicle with no snow tyres was soon speeding down the icy road with miraculous safety and warmth, and had made it to the little frozen Christmas Eve town in no time.
“So what exactly did Above say?” Crowley asked as they walked down one of the streets of town, already looking very cold and shrunken-down into his coat and scarf in a way that resembled a turtle much more than a serpent.
“There’s some sort of disturbance.” Aziraphale tried to pick up on it, sensing the air around him. “As though something bad is coming.”
“On Christmas?” Crowley said.
“That’s not a very demonic thing to say.”
“What if I told you I was hoping your answer would be ‘Yes’?”
“I wouldn’t believe you.”
They strolled down the street, Crowley humming something as they went. They passed the one pub and grocery store and made it to the residential area. A few of the houses had fairy lights. One had a snowman out front. Everything was quiet with the hush of a thick layer of snow.
Aziraphale frowned. The lack of anything wrong was—worrying. “It certainly looks peaceful enough.”
“Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by,” Crowley noted. With a wicked grin, he added, “Yet in thy dark streets…”
“Walks a sappy demon wearing ten layers of clothing,” Aziraphale said. “Yet you still seem to be the most sinister thing around. But still, there’s this feeling….”
“You know what?” Crowley said. “I think I’m starting to pick up on something too. Yeah, there it is. A sort of—dread. Foreboding. Like something awful is coming. Something that’s the absolute worst. The unthinkable. The—wait. Hey. Do you see what I see?”
Aziraphale looked at where he was pointing. There was an alleyway that seemed far too long and dark for the town they were in. In its depths were two shadows that were darker than the rest of the darkness. They were coming closer—creeping forward, sinister—one tall and thin, another short, hunched, lurking—
“Oh, bloody heaven,” Crowley said under his breath. “Not them.” Then, in a cheery voice, he called out, “Hallo, Dukes Hastur, Ligur! Come to ruin Christmas Eve for a tiny English village, have you?”
The dukes walked into the light, scowling. To Crowley’s enjoyment, they both looked cold. Ligur had a runny nose.
“You two?” Aziraphale said. “Is that all that’s going on? Heaven just noticed a couple of extra demons lurking around?”
“Heaven noticed us?” Ligur exclaimed. “Pfft. I din’t think Heaven would notice if their own toes were on fire.”
“Heaven doesn’t have toes,” Aziraphale said disdainfully. “It’s not a physical being, it’s—”
“What are you two doing here?” Crowley cut in, before things could go too far.
“I was going to ask you the same thing,” Hastur said. “Intimidatingly. Before you could say anything. As a proper Duke of Hell’s entrance. Only it was too cold.”
“But I asked you first,” Crowley pointed out.
Aziraphale wondered how Hell ever accomplished anything.
Hastur huffed. “We came to see what was going on in this creepy town.”
“So it’s not you that Heaven sensed?” Aziraphale said. “I thought the presence of two demons wouldn’t be enough. My superiors seemed rather worried.”
“We’re not worried, per se,” Ligur said. “’Bout this little town. But we thought we ought to check it out. Weird, innit? Feels like something bad’s about to happen.”
“Well, we’re looking this way,” Crowley said. “So no need to check down this part of town.”
The four of them looked around. The town really was very small. More of a village, really. There was pretty much only one street. And pretty much only one direction they could walk down it.
“Right,” Hastur said. “You take the right side, we’ll take the left.”
Crowley grimaced, Aziraphale rolled his eyes, and the two pairs set off down the street, which was only wide enough for them to just barely not appear to be walking side-by-side.
After a while, Aziraphale started squinting. He stopped, cupped a hand to his ear, and tilted his head. Crowley gave him a questioning look. Aziraphale made some hmm-ing noises.
“What is it?”
“It’s coming from—” the angel said, dismayed. “It’s coming from humans. This feeling. It’s not supernatural at all. I don’t—” He frowned and walked a few paces towards the row of houses to their right. “It’s coming from one of these.”
“Great,” Crowley said, following him over to the doorstep. “So we’re going to go around knocking on peoples’ doors, asking them if they’re emitting some sort of doomsday signal on this holiday eve?”
The angel and demon met each others’ eyes and winced.
“Got any better ideas?”
“Oy,” came a voice from across the street. “What are you two doing?”
“Ignore them, and maybe they’ll go away,” Crowley whispered conspiratorially.
He was met with the glum fact that his co-conspirator was, in fact, ignoring him. Aziraphale was wiping the ice off of the glass pane to the side of the door of the cottage. He made himself a little window, and then, he stuck his face up next to the glass and peered through it.
“Careful, or you’ll get your nose stuck,” Hastur sneered as he and Ligur walked over to them.
“You two really don’t need to come over here,” Crowley said. “We’ve got this. Like you said, you take the other side of the road, we’ll take this one—”
“Like I’d let you and halo-head deal with this,” Hastur retorted. “Not bloody likely.”
“All of you, shush!” Aziraphale turned to face them, and his nose did, admittedly, look a bit frosty. “We’re going to alert the humans!”
“And what was your plan, angel?” Crowley said. “Spy on them until they reveal their weird Heaven-alerting Christmas Eve activities?”
“If anyone’s doing the spying,” Ligur said, “it’ll be me.”
“We’ve got this.”
“I wouldn’t trust you to spy on a brick wall without being noticed!”
“I wouldn’t trust you to not smite the humans out of sheer panic when they inevitably spot you!”
“If you all don’t shush,” Aziraphale said in a whisper that was louder than all three of them, “they’re going to come out and—”
The door opened.
A man, standing there in a robe and nightcap that could have come straight out of an illustrated The Night Before Christmas, his face stuck permanently in a yawn, stared at them.
“Er,” he said. “Hello?”
The angel and three demons stared back.
“What do we do?” Crowley hissed, a real hiss this time. Hastur and Ligur were frozen, eyes wide. Aziraphale looked sheepish.
“Do you need something?” the man asked.
“Let’s just scare him back inside,” Ligur said quietly.
A little girl appeared, half-hiding behind the man’s leg. She looked up at the four of them with gigantic brown eyes. Hastur made a strange noise.
The man was starting to look afraid. He put his hand protectively on the girl’s head. Crowley squirmed.
“It—” Aziraphale said. “—came upon a midnight clear.”
“Oh my someone,” Crowley hissed under his breath, then quickly followed it up with “that glorious song of ooold,” when met by a glance from the angel.
There was a brief pause. The man made a face, and the little girl smiled
“From angels bending near the Earth—” came a tiny, rushed voice from behind Crowley, that he realized with a jolt could only conceivably be Hastur.
“To touch their harps of gold,” Aziraphale finished, smiling brightly.
“Peace on the Earth, goodwill towards men, from Heaven’s all gracious king,” Crowley sang, because he was pretty sure the other two demons would combust if pushed to do so.
“The world in solemn stillness lay,” sang, inconceivably, Ligur.
Aziraphale finished heartily, “To hear the angels sing!”
The little girl giggled and clapped. Her father put on a crooked smile. “Er, that was, very nice, thank you.”
“Season’s greetings and blessings to you all,” Aziraphale said. “Goodnight!”
The door closed.
A second later, Aziraphale was met with the powerful glares of three very angry demons.
“It did work,” he said, unconcerned.
And, because he had been going for six-thousand years without letting the glares of demons get to him, and it showed, the three gave up and they all shuffled on away from the door.
“How do you even know the words to that?” Crowley asked the dukes as they headed for the next house. I’m sure it’s this one, Aziraphale had said. Or the next one. Definitely one of these on this side of the street.
“I’ve been on Earth before, you know,” Hastur grumbled. “Though this has by far been my least favorite experience. You’re lucky I’m here on a mission and not in the mood for a battle, angel.”
“Don’t blame me,” Aziraphale said. “Crowley gave me the idea. He’s been quoting lines from carols and hymns all night long.”
They turned to him. Crowley turned white.
“S’not my fault,” he said. “This year the Bentley just started playing them right at the start of December. Did you know Freddie Mercury has a really nice album of Christmas song covers?”
“Neither did I.”
They approached the next house more cautiously than the first. This one didn’t have glass panes by the door. Aziraphale had started scootching behind the shrubs growing by the wall to get to one of the bigger windows when Crowley grabbed his arm and pulled him back, shaking his head. Even the other demons were keeping quiet this time. That was why, when it happened, Aziraphale sensed it.
Someone else had arrived.
“Do you hear what I hear?” the angel said.
“A song, a song?” Crowley asked with a smirk.
“No.” Aziraphale’s expression had soured. “Motorcycle engines.”
Crowley heard them. Then he heard them stop. Then he heard footsteps.
Three harbingers of the Apocalypse came walking down the road towards them.
“You sure it’s something human?” Crowley said out of the corner of his mouth to Aziraphale. “Cause ‘bad news’ really seems like something up their alley.”
“It’s definitely coming from one of these houses,” Aziraphale replied.
The three Horsepersons walked towards them, War leading them, one hand on her hip and an unnerving smile on her lips. They reached the others and stopped.
Hastur and Ligur hurried forward eagerly. Ligur looked as though he were deciding whether or not to bow.
“It’s an honor to meet you,” Hastur said.
“Big fan of your work,” Ligur added.
“Likewise,” Pollution said with a too-wide grin. “I’ve seen some of the messes you two have made!”
“Are you here to investigate whatever strange thing is happening here as well?” Aziraphale interrupted, rather grumpily.
“That’s right,” Famine said. “Let’s just say we’re—drawn to endings.”
“Something is ending?” the angel said. “What does that mean?”
“All I know is, it doesn’t sound good,” Crowley said. “And you know what else doesn’t sound good? ‘Hi, human family, don’t mind us, just three demons, the personification of War, Famine, and Pollution, and one angel in a bright red Christmas jumper, just checking out some really bad vibes coming from your residence—mind if we pop in for a spell?’”
“It does seem to be radiating from one of these houses,” Famine said thoughtfully. “We should probably check them out.”
“That didn’t exactly go well the last time,” Ligur said.
“What have you all been doing? Wiping the humans’ memories once you’re done searching them?”
“Er,” Crowley said. “We started singing.”
The Horsepersons stared at him blankly. Crowley supposed this was better than the last time he had seen them, but only barely.
“Carols,” he explained.
“For the holidays,” Aziraphale added brightly.
“Rrright,” War said. “So, you get them to open the door, see if the weird energy is radiating from their house, sing a few songs, and then walk away scot-free?”
“Erm,” Hastur said. “Well, technically, that did work, but—”
“Sounds good to me,” War said, and she walked past them all and pressed the doorbell.
The rest of them panicked. Hastur and Ligur scrambled to the back. Pollution and Famine had hurried forward to stop her. Aziraphale and Crowley were stuck, bemused, in the middle of the festive mess. Crowley opened his mouth to say something. All he could think of was, “Well, which song are we doing this time?”
The door opened and a little old lady smiled up at them with a face so wrinkled you could barely see her eyes.
“Er, hello—” Famine said.
“Carolers don’t say ‘hello’, you idiot,” War hissed. Then she flashed a brilliant smile at the old woman and started, “We three kings of orient are bearing gifts we traverse afar—”
“Field and fountain,” Famine joined in quickly, looking embarrassed but providing a surprisingly lovely tenor. “Moor and mountain, following yonder star.”
Famine side-eyed Pollution. He glared at him. Famine nudged him. Pollution stuck out his tongue.
The gleam of something sharp appeared by War’s ankle and poked Pollution lightly in the foot.
“Oooh-ohhhhh,” Pollution said, throwing on a sudden cheesy and slightly alarmed grin, “star of wonder, star of light!”
“Star with royal beauty bright! Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to that perfect light!”
In the end, the little old lady thanked them and made them wait while she found a plate of jam tarts. Famine ate most of them before Aziraphale or the demons could get to them, and Pollution proudly dropped his jam tart tin on her petunias. Aziraphale miracled it away as they were leaving.
“That really was some very nice harmonization,” the angel said to the Horsepersons as they were headed to the next house. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I wouldn’t have expected it from you.”
“We were made to work well together,” Famine said.
“Can you two do that?” Crowley asked Hastur and Ligur with a grin.
“We’re supposed to sow discord!” Ligur said. “Not sing carols.”
“Well, look, here’s one in a minor key—is that close enough?”
“I’m not doing this again,” Hastur said. “I don’t care what you all think. This is getting us nowhere.”
“But it is,” Aziraphale said. “We’re getting closer, I can feel it. And as soon as the people—the humans—open their doors, I can tell whether or not the energy is coming from their home.”
They begrudgingly accepted the validity of this and walked on to the next house. This one had fairy lights. Hastur and Ligur looked as though they would get burnt if they touched them.
They went through several more houses in a similar manner. They sang “The First Noel”, “Angels We Have Heard On High”, and “Jingle Bells”, because Ligur said he didn’t see why they had to sing all the religious ones, although after hearing Hastur’s ‘fa la la’s in “Deck the Halls” they all decided that sticking to the hymns was more their specialty.
“And isn’t it convenient that we all know the words to these?” Crowley said, mostly for the sake of making the dukes squirm, although the disapproving-but-amused look Aziraphale gave him was worth it, too.
“It helps that we were all around back then, I suppose,” War said. “Although the songs never quite tell it like I remember it.”
“You were there?” Crowley said, dubious.
“War is everywhere, always. I remember the wise men or kings or whatever. Even if it is a bit foggy. Anyway, you all realize that these events happened over the course of, like, months, right? Not in one night.”
“Maybe that explains why Christmas keeps getting earlier and earlier every year,” Crowley said. “They were selling festive fruitcake in October.”
“I thought that was your doing,” Hastur said, raising an eyebrow at him. “The extension of the holiday shopping season. To promote commercialism and spending money on frivolous things?”
Crowley, whose doings it in fact wasn’t, and who rather liked fruitcake, or at least liked sharing it with a certain someone whom he knew liked fruitcake, didn’t reply.
“You all may know the lyrics,” said a new voice, startling them all. “But do you know what I know?”
The seven of them spun around and were faced with a figure of radiance—or perhaps that was just the cold talking. At any rate, Gabriel the archangel was standing in front of them, and his outfit was entirely composed of crisp, clean greys and whites, which rather made him look like the frozen-over road behind them, but slightly more stylish, if you liked that sort of look.
Aziraphale did not, and he immediately scowled.
“I was there,” Gabriel said, “for all of it. It is never too early to begin commemorating that glorious day.”
“You just like having the opportunity to tell the story of how important you were time and time again,” Aziraphale said snippily. “What are you doing here? I told you I could handle it.”
“And I didn’t believe you.” Gabriel looked around at the crowd that the angel had accidentally gathered. “I must admit, this is not the—crew—I was expecting you to have found to assist you.”
“I didn’t call them here. They all came separately. They’ve all felt it, too. Gabriel, what is going on?”
“That is precisely what I aim to find out. How have you been conducting your search so far?”
They told him. Gabriel didn’t seem as nonplussed by the idea as Crowley had been expecting. In fact, when Ligur—irritated and unafraid of the archangel as only someone of fairly low intelligence for self-preservation could be—told him grumpily that the angel had been making them sing carols, Gabriel even looked pleased.
“Spreading good cheer as well as solving our mystery,” he said. “Aziraphale, I’m—surprised. Well, it is the holiday season. I suppose I could say I am impressed.”
“A gift I shall cherish forever,” Aziraphale said through gritted teeth.
“I’m sure I could go along with this caroling thing,” Gabriel said. “I could provide a nice bass, you know. Or a tenor. Really I could sing any range we’re lacking.”
“How about soprano?” Crowley interjected, earning him a warning glance from Aziraphale, although he was also certain that he would receive thanks for it later.
“What are we going to sing next?” said War, who seemed to be having too much fun with this.
“O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,” sang Gabriel. “Wie treu sind deine Blätter!”
“Stop showin’ off that you can speak German,” Ligur said.
“I was busy that century. Doing my job.”
“Can we please focus?” Aziraphale said worriedly. “Something is wrong here. Look, there are no stars in the sky anymore! The whole street has gone darker.”
“The fairy lights have gone out, too,” Crowley said.
“Oh, your job?” Gabriel was still arguing. “As though the job of a demon is important?”
“Well someone has to clear up you peoples’ bull—”
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining! That’s the kind of thing my job is meant to fix!”
“Oh, well, the weary world rejoices—”
“Will you all be quiet?” Aziraphale was pointing behind them. “I think I’ve found it! It’s definitely the next house down!”
“That’s what you’ve said about all the last ones,” Hastur snapped. “I am not singing again!”
“You won’t have to. If you’ll only listen—”
“Ouch! The archangel elbowed me!”
“I did not. That was an accident!”
“All of you,” Aziraphale yelled. “Listen to what I say!”
They turned to him. He pointed behind him.
I BELIEVE, said Death, who was standing on the doorway to the last house on the street, THAT WE ARE ALL HERE FOR THE SAME REASON.
Eight supernatural and ethereal jaws dropped.
Crowley promptly did a near 180 in the air as his feet slipped out from under him and he fell backwards, mercifully into Aziraphale, who caught him.
“How is this ice melting?” the demon grumbled as he righted himself, rubbing his arms. “It has to be colder than freezing here.”
THAT, said Death, IS PART OF THE PROBLEM.
“Do you know what’s going on?” said Gabriel. He looked a bit uncomfortable. It was rare that he was faced with someone with more power than himself, although he probably would not have admitted that this was the circumstance, if asked.
SOMETHING BIG IS DYING.
“Oh, no,” Crowley said. “Not Santa Claus?”
NOT THIS TIME.
“Ha, I was only jok—wait, what?”
NO, said Death. He extended a long arm and pointed towards the door of the house with a bony finger. It was the only one with lights still on in the whole street. The rest of the village was completely dark. It had stopped snowing. It almost felt warm, which was, oddly, chilling.
“You’re here because something is dying?” Aziraphale said. “Or someone? Is it a human?”
NO, Death said again. IT IS THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS.
There was a beat of silence.
“How is that possible?” Gabriel asked.
THE SPIRIT OF ANY DAY IMBUED WITH SIGNIFICANCE LIVES INSIDE THE HEART OF EVERY HUMAN WHO CELEBRATES THAT DAY. IT WAXES AND WANES THROUGHOUT THAT HUMAN’S LIFE. THIS IS INEVITABLE. NOT EVERY YEAR CAN BE— Death paused, looking for an appropriate human term. –FESTIVE.
“So then how could the death of the entire spirit be focused here?” Crowley asked. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
IT DOES NOT. THIS SPIRIT IS A HUMAN THING. IT CANNOT BE DESTROYED THROUGH ANY EXTERNAL SOURCE. YET LOOK AROUND YOU. THE SNOW HAS MELTED, THE LIGHT HAS LEFT THIS VILLAGE. ALL OF ITS WARMTH AND GOOD CHEER IS GONE. IN SPITE OF YOUR SPIRITED CAROLING.
Hastur, Ligur, and the Horsepersons grumbled. Gabriel looked mystified.
“But why here?”
THE INABILITY TO FEEL THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT BY ONE HUMAN SHOULD NOT AFFECT THE REST OF THE CHRISTMAS-CELEBRATING WORLD, Death said. AND YET, IN THIS HOUSEHOLD, THERE IS A HUMAN WHO IS KILLING IT.
“I knew it,” Aziraphale said. “Didn’t I say it was a human? Didn’t you hear what I said?”
“We sure did,” Ligur said snidely. “’Hark’, we all said. Harkened right up.”
“If there’s one human who is doing all of this,” Crowley said. He walked up to the door and look at it thoughtfully, his head tilted to one side. “One person whose thoughts and feelings are affecting the whole surrounding area—then I bet I know who it is.”
He pressed the doorbell.
It sounded like Beethoven’s Fifth.
A human answered. He was a young man, probably in his early twenties. He had golden hair and looked very sad. He also looked unreal. But he was definitely human.
At least partly.
“Oh,” said Adam, sounding glum. “It’s you lot.”
The supernatural and ethereal beings stared at the former Antichrist in dismay. Gabriel was probably finding this Christmas to be an odd reversal of his very first one. Hastur and Ligur looked confused about whether or not to bow or call ‘traitor’. The Horsepersons wore the uncomfortable looks of persons who had once tried to bully someone smaller than them and failed miserably. Crowley wore the uncomfortable look of someone who had once been afraid of being bullied by someone much smaller than him but then had realized that they were maybe actually awkward friends or something of that sort after all, and didn’t know what the appropriate response to seeing him was now. Aziraphale looked sheepish. Only Death looked unconcerned, and that was only because it was difficult for him to have facial expressions without—well—a face.
Adam sighed. “I s’pose this means I’m messin’ up the Earth, or something?”
“Adam,” Aziraphale said. “What are you doing here? I thought you loved Tadfield.”
Adam sighed again, the kind of sigh that was impressive not because it was done by the antichrist, but by, as they were about to find out, a student. “I’m at university,” he said. “Near here. I’m just renting this place. Mum and Dad wanted me to go to Cambridge, or Oxford, or somethin’, but they were all too—” He waved his hands around in the air. “I just like small towns, I s’pose.”
“What’s wrong?” Crowley asked. “Why are you—I mean, why is—I mean, why is there just a puddle with a carrot in it back there were Frosty used to be? What’s wrong with you?”
Adam shrugged. “I don’t know. It just—doesn’t feel like Christmas. That’s all.”
AND NOW IT DOES NOT FEEL LIKE CHRISTMAS ACROSS THE COUNTRY, Death said somberly. SOON IT MAY SPREAD FARTHER.
“I’m really sorry,” Adam said, looking miserable. “I didn’t mean for it to spread. If I could stop it I would.”
YOU MUST TRY TO REVIVE THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT WITHIN YOU.
Adam scrunched up his face and clenched his fists with pure concentration. It was amazing, Crowley thought, how much he still looked like the little kid who had saved the world through sheer power of will, even now that he had a light layer of stubble on his face. Adam relaxed and groaned.
“I’m sorry. I just can’t. It just doesn’t feel right. Nothing’s holly or jolly or any of that.”
“Where are those friends of yours?” War asked. “I thought you four were as thick as thieves.”
Adam’s expression changed, and suddenly, everything made sense. The young man’s face looked the way the sky looked before it started pouring down rain.
“They all go here, too,” he said, “but—they went home. Except Sarah wasn’t comin’ home this year, cause she’s spending the holidays with her girlfriend’s family, so Mum and Dad decided to go to Hawaii like they always wanted, and now it’s just—” He stopped speaking.
“It just doesn’t feel like home,” Aziraphale said kindly.
HMM, Death said. THIS DOES SEEM TO BE A PICKLE.
Crowley was wondering if he, a few other demons, and the Horsepersons of the Apocalypse could somehow revive the spirit of Christmas within the heart of a man capable of seeing through your deception instantly, but he thought that some miracles were probably too impossible even for Christmas. The holiday had always been a mess. Was it about the birth of that boy two-thousand years ago? It had taken well over a thousand years for people to actually start celebrating it like this. Was it even something Heaven had intended to become such a big deal? Sure, Gabriel had been there, but Gabriel had done tons of things on Earth that people didn’t celebrate with carols and tinsel—although you shouldn’t necessarily mention that to him. And Crowley had known for some time that it was really more about family and friendship or good spirit or kindness or generosity or quite simply bright lights in the dark of winter and a warm place to escape from the cold, anyway, in fact humans knew that, and that was what they were celebrating, and how could they fix that? How could supernatural or ethereal beings who could conjure up their own warmth and who would never truly understand the importance of light to humans possibly fix it?
And then there was the entire Southern hemisphere. Gosh. Forget the ‘cold’, Christmas could have been about absolutely anything. But it had to have meaning, or it wouldn’t mean so much to them.
Maybe they couldn’t fix it.
Maybe no immortal being could.
Hope for humanity always lived within humans, anyway.
There was a sound coming from behind all of them. They didn’t recognize it at first, because they had been so used to the sound of crunching snow, and the snow had all melted—but then they realized that all that splashing was the sound of footsteps.
Three figures had appeared. They weren’t magical at all, but the sight of them was miraculous nonetheless.
Adam, whose vision was blocked by the menagerie of beings in front of him, had to wait until they all turned, one-by-one domino style, to see who had arrived. He was finally able to politely push them aside and make his way down his doorstep to see the arrival of his three best friends.
All smiling, one pulling a sleigh through an inch of water, one holding several baking tins, and one staggering under the weight of so many presents that their face was hidden.
“Pepper! Wensley!” Adams’ face split into a grin. He rushed forward, removing one of the presents so he could see the third person’s face. “And Brian! What are you all doing here?”
“You didn’t really think we’d let you spend Christmas alone, did you?” Pepper said.
“But you all went home!”
“Adam! I love you, but you’re an idiot.”
Adam beamed. It was a glorious sight, one that shone bright enough to distract any human, even from the presence of an actual skeleton in a robe. Death shuffled sheepishly behind Famine, the height of surreptition.
“Who’re all these people?” Brian said. “You didn’t throw a party and not invite us, did you?”
“What? Oh, no. Of course not! Even though I was pretty mad at you lot.”
“Adam,” said Wensleydale. “Do you forgive us for pulling this trick on you? Since it was so we could surprise you on Christmas Eve?”
“Yeah,” Adam said, grinning. “I s’pose I do.”
“Then could you please let us inside? It’s freezing out here.”
Crowley and Aziraphale gave a start, and looked around, then back at each other. There were snowflakes in the air. They had to shuffle their feet to break the ice that had formed around them on the refrozen ground. The angel’s nose was red. He smiled at Crowley.
“Well,” he said. “Another mystery solved.”
“And another one we didn’t need to be here for at all,” Crowley said brightly.
“Yes, well, that is the best kind.”
The humans had gone inside, except for Adam, who hung out of the front door. “You all can come in, if you like,” he said. “It’s only fair, since you came all the way here to make sure I was all right, and stuff.”
“Erm, thanks, but we’ll leave you to it,” War said. She and her cohorts were already walking back towards where they had parked their motorbikes. Death faced Adam and made one of the blue pinpricks of light that served as his eyes go out and back on again before turning to join them.
“Yyyeah,” Ligur said. “I’ve had enough of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ tonight, plus, that doesn’t really sound like us, so—” And he and Hastur vanished.
Adam turned to Gabriel. “Erm,” he said. “I don’t really know you, but—”
Gabriel looked embarrassed, which was a rare sight. “I really should be getting back,” he said. “There are always lots of Christmas prayers, and things, to attend to—”
He turned to Aziraphale, nodded curtly, and then vanished in a dazzling and somewhat too showy unfurling of majestic wings.
That left Aziraphale and Crowley.
Adam shrugged at them. “You two probably stand the best chance of fittin’ in with us humans, anyway,” he said, smiling.
Aziraphale thanked him, and Crowley laughed.
“Well—” the demon said.
“Oy, Adam.” Pepper had appeared by the door. She gave the angel and demon a curious look. “Are you all comin’ in or not?”
“We have fruitcake, you know,” Adam said, raising his eyebrows.
“Oh, that? I just brought that for a joke.” Pepper snickered and explained to the others, “We’ve been passing a fruitcake back and forth for years. No one ever eats it.”
Crowley turned to Aziraphale, whose eyes had gone wide. He turned back to Adam and grinned. “Well,” he said, “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to stay for a little while.”
Once the door had closed behind them, the snow was falling fully in the tiny town. The snowman had magically formed again, no magician’s hat needed—although Aziraphale did still have one somewhere in the back of Crowley’s car. The fairy lights had come back on, and the humans in all of the surrounding houses, whether they celebrated the holiday or not, found themselves having the most pleasant dreams. In Adam’s house, they were warm and loud and full of sweet food and cheer. There was music playing, and for once, everyone was singing along.
It was a wonderful night, and the holiday cheer was impossible to resist—even Crowley wouldn’t be able to be truly angry when, later, he would discover that someone had added antlers and a plush red nose to the front of the Bentley.